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Full text of "The incomparable Siddons"

LIBRARY 

OF THK 

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA. 

Class 



THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 




indisputably the finest female portrait in the world" 



SIR THOS. LAWRENCE TO THE R.A. STUDENTS, 1824 



THE 

INCOMPARABLE 
SIDDONS 



BY 

MRS. CLEMENT PARSONS 

AUTHOR OF "GARRICK AND HIS CIRCLE" 



WITH TWENTY ILLUSTRATIONS 



Y ) 



NEW YORK: G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS 

LONDON: METHUEN & CO, 

1909 



TO 

KATE TERRY GIELGUD 

AFFECTIONATELY 



194224 



AUTHOR'S PREFACE 

THIS book, though certainly no conclusive ' Life/ aims 
at being a study of a personality, and, at the same 
time, a contribution towards that definitive History of 
the English Stage which is yet unwritten. In the case of an 
art that can bequeath no assurance of itself save the recorded 
impression created on contemporary observers, sifting and 
collating of descriptive notes and criticisms are peculiarly 
needed. From a mass of data, accumulated during three 
years' search, I have attempted to construct an image, 
approximately true, of the foremost example of genius in 
woman this country has produced, one who, in words Irving 
used concerning her, "helped to make the name of England 
illustrious throughout the world." I have tried to disentangle 
from her kinsfolk and fellow-artists the individual self of 
Sarah Siddons, and to summarise, as authentically as, at this 
distance of time, is possible, her style, ideals, and methods. 

The sense of a woman-artist's duality, both as to life-work 
and character, must be present with her biographer, but, far 
more particularly if she was an actress, a conviction emerges 
of the decided extent to which the artist self impinged on the 
woman self. Whoever writes a great actress's memoir traces 
a twofold story, full of curious psychologic correlation. 

The wonder is that half a dozen adequate biographies of 
Mrs. Siddons do not exist. Midway in her career, John 
Taylor, sometime an oculist, afterwards author of Monsieur 
Tonson and proprietor of The Sun, proposed to her to write 
a narrative, to date, but she discouraged the idea, apparently 

vii 



viii THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

from a feeling that a friend's biography of a living person is 
bound to appear fulsome to outsiders. Boaden was the next 
aspirant. Four years before the death of his ' biographee,' 
fifteen after her retirement, he published his earlier edition of 
Memoirs of Mrs. Siddons. No tyro at dramatic biography, 
he was, at the time, sixty-five which may account for his 
digressions and touch of Polonius. His book has been unduly 
condemned, notably by Mrs. Siddons's nephew, J. M. Kemble, 
who wished to kick him for it, and asked W. B. Donne whether 
it was not "abominable that such a fellow should perfectly 
unauthorised sit down, to scribble on a subject of all others 
the most ticklish, when in addition to the drawback of knowing 
nothing whatever of his hero, he adds that of knowing very 
little more of his own language." Boaden was long-winded, 
and, sometimes, cryptic, as where, writing of Cumberland's 
Carmelite, he regretted that "the hideous Hildebrand alone 
presses the green floorcloth of dramatic expiation," but he 
was a sound judge of plays and playing, and he wrote like 
a gentleman. Turning over his pages while writing my own, 
I recalled North's reply to Hogg's question, " Hae ye read 
Boaden's Life d Siddons, sir ? " "I have, James and I 
respect Mr. Boaden for his intelligent criticism. He is rather 
prosy occasionally but why not? God knows, he cannot 
be more prosy than I am now at this blessed moment." 

I cannot say, with Campbell, that I " applied " so arduously 
to write on Mrs. Siddons that my physicians " told me that 
unless I desisted I should sacrifice my own life to " hers. The 
authorised biography, dilatorily published in 1834, that cost so 
much travail, reflects, for the most part, its writer's inappetency. 
Campbell did not hold, with Cicero, that " Vitce bene actejucun- 
dissima est recordatio" The materials for a determinate work 
numerous letters, autograph Memoranda and diary placed by 
Mrs. Siddons in his hands for use after her death, disappeared, 
under his charge, and in their place we have a piece of joyless 
task-work, as he himself avowed his book to be. Mrs. Jameson 



AUTHOR'S PREFACE ix 

greatly desired to write a biography while Mrs. Siddons's 
memory was yet green, but the way was jealously barred 
by Campbell. He, meantime, so mismanaged or neglected 
his material that for the most characteristic and informative 
of Mrs. Siddons's letters we have to turn to Journals and 
Correspondence of Thomas Sedgwick Whalley, where they are 
incidental, and not the staple. In our day, two works have 
appeared concerning Mrs. Siddons. In Mr. Percy Fitzgerald's 
The Kembles, she stands as the principal member of a dis- 
tinguished family, while Mrs. Kennard's competent monograph 
professes only to be a brief abstract of her history. 

After the lapse of three quarters of a century, biographers 
should tell, surely, not whatever can be told, but whatever is 
worth telling. To me, the majority of old playbills seem dead 
leaves on the Tree of Useless Knowledge, and, therefore, I have 
not weighted my book with the thousand obtainable details of 
first night dates of forgotten tragedies, the number of nights 
each ran, the number of Mrs. Siddons's appearances season by 
season, etc. These trifles form scarcely even the framework 
of the real memorabilia. 

Besides thanks due to friends named elsewhere in this book, 
it is a great pleasure to express my indebtedness to others who 
have helped me, either by the loan of letters and pictures or 
the gift of items of out-of-the-way information. To the late 
Mrs. Quintin Twiss and to her family I have been specially 
obliged. Mr. H. G. I. Siddons, also, has elucidated for me 
several points of family history. I wish to record my gratitude 
to Mr. Oswald G. Knapp, Mr. J. H. Leigh, the Rev. N. F. Y. 
Kemble, Miss Gwenllian Morgan, Mrs. H. Barham Johnson, 
Lady Brooke, Captain Horatio Kemble, R.N., Mr. Joseph Hill, 
and Mr. Alfred Parsons. 

Lawrence, at Dr. Whalley's request, made a delightful draw- 
ing of Cecilia Siddons, which passed into the possession of 
Whalley's greatnephew, the Rev. Hill Wickham, to the kindness 
of whose daughter, its present owner, Lady Seymour, I owe 



x THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

the inclusion of a reproduction. To Mr. W. S. Brassington, 
Mrs. Seymour Fort, Mr. N. Beard, and Miss Mary M. Watts 
I am indebted for divers sorts of help. I gladly make my 
acknowledgments to Messrs. George Allen & Sons and to 
Messrs. Chatto & Windus for their courteous permission to me 
to quote from works published by them, also to the Editors of 
the Nineteenth Century and Notes and Queries for leave to quote 
from articles. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

AUTHOR'S PREFACE . . . . . . vii 

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS ...... xiii 

WORKS CONSULTED . . . . . .XV 

DATES AND EVENTS ...... xviii 

I. YOUNG GIRLHOOD .... . I 

II. FALSE DAWN : 1775 .... . l8 

III. MRS. SIDDONS OF THE BATH THEATRE . 3 1 

IV. THE BATH CIRCLE .... -44 
V. CONQUEST OF LONDON ... 5 2 

VI. THE WAY OF HER GENIUS ... -7 
VII. SOME EARLY PARTS .... 8 1 
VIII. HER STARRING EXPERIENCES ... -95 
IX. HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE . .114 
X. JOHN PHILIP KEMBLE . . . . . -133 
XI. OTHER BROTHERS AND SISTERS . . . . -147 
XII. PIZARRO AND SHERIDAN, AND VARIOUS PLAYS AND PLAY- 
WRIGHTS . . . . . . .156 

XIII. PROMINENT THEATRICAL CONTEMPORARIES . . . l68 

XIV. HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN . . . . .183 
XV. FRIENDS . . . . . . .211 

XVI. ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER IN MATURITY . . 228 

XVII. GREAT MEN AND GREAT LADIES ..... 249 

XVIII. MRS. SIDDONS'S RETIREMENT AND PUBLIC READINGS . . 263 

XIX. LAST YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS .... 276 

APPENDIXES ....... 290 

INDEX . . . . . . . -293 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

MRS. SIDDONS AS THE TRAGIC MUSE . . . Frontispiece 

From the Engraving by FRANCIS HAWARD, after the Painting by 
REYNOLDS 

FACING 
PAGE 

MRS. SIDDONS'S BIRTHPLACE ...... 2 

From a Drawing in Campbell's Life of Mrs. Siddons. The modern 
Photograph by Mr. R. E. CHARLES 

ROGER KEMBLE . . . . . . . .8 

From the Miniature by OZIAS HUMPHREYS in the Shakespeare 
Memorial Collection, Stratford -upon -Avon. Reproduced by 
permission of the Governors of the Shakespeare Memorial. 
Photograph by Mr. L. C. KEIGHLEY PEACH 

Guv's CLIFFE ........ 16 

From a Drawing by ALFRED PARSONS, A.R.A., in The Warwickshire 
Avon. Reproduced by kind permission of Messrs. Harper & 
Brothers 

A GARRICK-SIDDONS PLAYBILL . . . . .28 

By kind permission of the owner, J. H. Leigh, Esq. 

MRS. SIDDONS. FROM AN OIL SKETCH BY ROMNEY . . 38 

(Till recently, this sketch had been a hundred years in the possession 
of the Martineau family. ) 

MRS. SIDDONS IN REYNOLDS'S STUDIO . . . .62 

From an Oil Painting by Sir W. Q. ORCHARDSON, R.A. Reproduced 
by permission of the Fine Art Society 

MRS. SIDDONS. BY AN UNKNOWN PAINTER . . .76 

In the Dyce Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum 

MRS. SIDDONS. BY GAINSBOROUGH . . . . .108 

From the Picture in the National Gallery 

A PAGE FROM PROFESSOR G. J. BELL'S NOTES ON MRS. SIDDONS'S 
PLAYING OF LADY MACBETH . . . . .122 

By kind permission of the owner, F. Jeffrey Bell, Esq. 
xiii 



xiv THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

FACING 
PAGE 

THE KEMBLE FAMILY IN HENRY vin . . . .128 

From the Mezzotint by GEORGE CLINT, after the Painting by G. H. 
HARLOW 

MRS. SIDDONS, AS LADY MACBETH . . . . .144 

From the scarce Lithograph after HARLOW. By kind permission of 
the owner, the Rev. Martin S. Ware 

MRS. SIDDONS. BY THOMAS LAWRENCE, P.R.A. . . .158 

From the Oil Painting Mrs. Siddons's Daughter, Mrs. Combe, 
bequeathed, in 1868, to the National Gallery 

WILLIAM SIDDONS. BY JOHN OPIE, R.A. . . . .184 

From the Oil Painting Mrs. Siddons's Daughter, Mrs. Combe, 
bequeathed, in 1868, to the National Gallery 

MARIA SIDDONS . . . . . . . .194 

From a Sketch in Oils by LAWRENCE. Reproduced by kind permission 
of Lord Ronald Gower and Messrs. Goupils' Successors 

CECILIA SIDDONS ....... 200 

From a Crayon Drawing by LAWRENCE. By kind permission of the 
owner, Lady Seymour 

A LETTER FROM MRS. SIDDONS ON THE DEATH OF HER SON . 218 

By kind permission of the owner, J. H. Leigh, Esq. 

MRS. SIDDONS. BY G. H. HARLOW . . . . .238 

WESTBOURNE FARM ....... 260 

From an Engraving by I. HASSELL, after a Drawing by P. GALINDO 

MRS. SIDDONS. ATTRIBUTED TO JOACHIM SMITH . . .282 

From a Bust in the Shakespeare Memorial Collection, Stratford-upon- 
Avon. Reproduced by permission of the Governors of the Shake- 
speare Memorial. Photograph by Mr. L. C. KEIGHLEY PEACH 



WORKS CONSULTED 

Some Account of the English Stage from 1660-1830. By the Rev. John Genest. 

10 vols., 1832. 
Drury Lane Theatre. A collection of documents, playbills, newspaper cuttings etc., 

relative to this theatre from the earliest period [1616] to 1830, chronologically 

arranged by Mr. James Winston. 23 vols. (British Museum, B.K.S. 3. i. etc.). 
" A collection of materiel towards an history of the English stage collected by Richard 

John Smith." 25 vols. (Extra-illustrated memoirs, newspaper cuttings, etc. 

British Museum, 118, 26 r, s.) 
" Collections relating to Garrick by Capt. James Saunders." 4 vols. (MSS and 

newspaper cuttings. In the Shakespeare Birthplace Library, Henley Street, 

Stratford-upon-Avon. ) 

Dramatic Miscellanies. By Thomas Davies. 3 vols., 1784. 

Annals of the English Stage. Their Majesties' Servants. By Dr. Doran. Edited 

and revised by Robert W. Lowe. 3 vols., 1888. 
A History of Theatrical Art. By Karl Mantzius. Eng. Trans, by Louisevon Cossel. 

Vol. v., 1909. 

Memoirs of Mrs. Siddons. By James Boaden. 1827 ; reprinted 1896. 

Life of Mrs. Siddons. By Thomas Campbell. 2 vols., 1834. 

Journals and Correspondence of Thomas Sedgwick Whalley, edited by the Rev. 
Hill Wickham. 2 vols., 1863. 

An Artist's Love Story. Edited by Oswald G. Knapp. 1904. 

Record of a Girlhood. By Frances Anne Kemble. 3 vols., 1878. 

Recollections of the Past. By E. H. M. [Mrs. Mair]. 1877. 

Memoirs of the Life of J. P. Kemble. By James Boaden. 2 vols., 1825. 

Biographical notices of players, by Joseph Knight, in Dictionary of National Bio- 
graphy. 63 vols., 1885-1900. 

The Kembles. By Percy Fitzgerald. 2 vols., 1871. 

Mrs. Siddons. By Mrs. A. Kennard (Eminent Women Series). 1887. 

The Life and Times of the Venerable Father John Kemble, Priest and Martyr. By 
Richard Raises Bromage. 1902. 



xvi THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

The Theatrical Portrait, a poem on the celebrated Mrs. Siddons in the characters of 

Calista, Jane Shore, Belvidera, and Isabella. 1783. 
The Siddoniad. 1785. 
The Beauties of Mrs. Siddons : or a review of her performance of the characters of 

Belvidera, etc., in letters from a lady of distinction to her friend in the 

country. 1786. 

The Green-Room Mirror, chiefly delineating our present theatrical performers. 1786. 
Papers literary, scientific, etc. By H. C. Fleeming Jenkin. 2 vols., 1887. (Con- 
taining G. J. Bell's notes, taken in the theatre, on Mrs. Siddons's acting. ) 
Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres. By the Author of the 

Theatrical Criticisms in the Weekly Paper called "The News" \_i.c. Leigh 

Hunt]. 1807. 
Dramatic Essays by Leigh Hunt. Edited by William Archer and Robert W. 

Lowe. 1894. 

A View of the English Stage. By William Hazlitt. 1818. 
Table-Talk. By William Hazlitt. 2 vols., 1822. 
Dramatic Essays by William Hazlitt. Edited by William Archer and Robert W. 

Lowe. 1895. 
Notes on some of Shakespeare's Plays. By Frances Anne Kemble. 1882. 

Sir Thomas Lawrence's Letter-Bag. By George Somes Layard. 1906. 
Sir Thomas Lawrence. By Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower. 1900. 
Thomas Lawrence et la Societe Anglaise de son Temps. Three articles by T. de 
Wyzewa in Tomes 5 et 6 (1891) of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts (Paris). 

The Private Correspondence of David Garrick. (Edited by James Boaden.) 

2 vols., 1831. 

Memoirs of Mrs. Inchbald. By James Boaden. 2 vols., 1833. 
Life and Times of Frederick Reynolds. Written by himself. 2 vols., 1826. 
Records of my Life. By John Taylor. 2 vols., 1832. 
An Old Man's Diary. By John Payne Collier. 1871-72. 
Lady Morgan's Memoirs. Edited by W. Hepworth Dixon. 2 vols., 1862. 
A Memoir of Charles Mayne Young. By Julian Charles Young. 2 vols., 1871. 
Macready's Reminiscences. Edited by Sir F. Pollock, Bart. 2 vols., 1875. 
Diary of the Right Hon. William Windham (1784-1810). Edited by Mrs. Henry 

Baring. 1866. 
The Life of Sir Walter Scott. By John Gibson Lockhart. Edinburgh Edition. 

10 vols., 1902. 
Scott's "Reviewal of Boaden's Memoirs of Kemble," Quarterly Review, No. 67, 

April 1826, and in Miscellaneous Works, XX. 
Reminiscences and Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers. 1903. 
Memoirs of his Own Life. By Tate Wilkinson. 4 vols., 1790. 
The Wandering Patentee. By Tate Wilkinson. 4 vols., 1795. 



WORKS CONSULTED xvii 

The Life of Mrs. Jordan. By James Boaden. 2vols.,i83i. 

Personal Sketches of his Own Times (Vol. II. (a), A Memoir [by the Editor], (b) 

Mrs. Jordan, (c) Mrs. Jordan in France). By Sir Jonah Barrington, 3 vols. 

(1827). Edited by Townsend Young, LL.D. 1869. 
Tea-Table Talk. By Mrs. Mathews. 2 vols., 1857. 
Memoirs of the Life of William Henry West Betty. Liverpool, 1804. 

The Struggle for a Free Stage in London. By Watson Nicholson. 1906. 



NOTICEABLE DATES IN MRS. SIDDONS'S 

LIFE 

GEORGE II (1727-1760) 
1755. Birtn of Sarah Kemble (afterwards Siddons) at Brecon. 

GEORGE III (1760-1820) 

1773. Sarah Kemble married to William Siddons at Coventry. 

1774. Henry, Mrs. Siddons's eldest child, born. 

1775. Sarah Martha (Sally), her second child, born. Drury Lane engagement 

with Garrick. 

1776. Return to the provinces. 

1779. Maria, Mrs. Siddons's third child, born. 

1781. Frances Emilia, her fourth child, born. Dies in infancy. 

1782. Mrs. Siddons's restoration to Drury Lane and triumph there. 

1784. Reynolds exhibits Mrs. Siddons's portrait as 'The Tragic Muse.' 

1785. Mrs. Siddons first plays Lady Macbeth. George John, her fifth child, born. 

1788. Mrs. Siddons first plays Queen Katharine. 

1789. First plays Volumnia. 

1791. Drury Lane Theatre pulled down. 

1794. Holland's new Drury Lane opens with Mrs. Siddons in Macbeth. Cecilia, 
Mrs. Siddons's sixth and youngest child, born. 

1796. Kemble throws up Drury Lane Management. 

1798. Death of Maria Siddons. 

1800-1. Kemble resumes Drury Lane Management, but, failing to enter into pro- 
prietorship, goes over (1802-3) to Covent Garden, purchasing a share. 

1802. Roger Kemble dies. 

1803. Sally Siddons dies. Mrs. Siddons, having quitted Drury Lane the previous 

year, now commences to act at Covent Garden, but plays no new 
character there. 

1804. Mrs. Siddons settles at Bath. 

1805-6. Mrs. Siddons engaged at Covent Garden from now till her retirement. 

1808. Death of Mr. Siddons. Covent Garden Theatre burnt. Prince of Wales lays 

stone of new Covent Garden. 

1809. Drury Lane Theatre burnt. New Covent Garden opened, O.P. riots. 



DATES AND EVENTS xix 



THE REGENCY (1811-1820) 

1812. Mrs. Siddons's last appearances and retirement. 
1815. Death of Henry Siddons. 

GEORGE IV (1820-1830) 

WILLIAM IV (1830-1837) 
1831. Death of Sarah Siddons, aged seventy-six, in London. 




THE 
INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 



i 

YOUNG GIRLHOOD 

1755. "July itfh Sarah Daughter of George Kemble a 
Comedian & Sarah his Wife was baptized" 

A TTESTED by ' Thomas Bevan. Curate/ so stands, in 
the Register of St. Mary's Church, Brecon, the baptism 
certificate of Sarah Kemble, afterwards Siddons. 
Apparently, the curate was not sufficiently interested in the 
strolling Manager to set down his name, Roger Kemble, 
correctly. 

Roger Kemble's eldest child was born, nine days before her 
christening, at an inn in Brecon High Street. As an inn, 
the Shoulder of Mutton exists no longer. The same building 
is now a tavern the Siddons Wine Vaults and, thinly 
lettered on an oblong white marble tablet, high above its 
licence inscription, is just legible 

IN THIS HOUSE 

MRS. SIDDONS 

WAS BORN JULY 5, 1/55 

The ' Siddons ' has totally lost the picturesque appearance 
it possesses in the old drawing the Rev. Thomas Price sent 
Pleasures-of-Hope Campbell for Mrs. Siddons's biography. 
The gable has long been removed, and the timbered front 
buried under stucco. Beyond the ' Siddons/ Brecon may be 
searched in vain for traces of the divine Sarah. The font in 



2 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

which she was baptized was turned out at the 'restoration 1 
of St. Mary's, in 1858, and given to a little church in the 
neighbourhood, Capel St. Illtyd. The back door of the 
1 Siddoris ' opens into Church Street, through which the baby 
was probably taken to the north-west door of St. Mary's for 
her christening. 

The county that also cradled Henry Vaughan, Sir Bartle 
Frere, and Dr. Bradley, Dean of Westminster, can only lay 
claim to the most intellectual actress who ever interpreted 
Shakespeare by the accident of birthplace. She was no more 
a Welshwoman than Swift was an Irishman, or Garrick a 
native of Hereford. On the Wiltshire border of Gloucester- 
shire, not far from Widhill, there is a village called Kemble, 
and from that district living members of the Kemble ' clan ' 
believe the family to have sprung. At the same time, the 
name ' Kemble/ which occurs in Domesday Book, and is 
traceable to the north side of the Loire, supplies another 
corroboration of the popular belief that for genius a strain 
of the Kelt is needed. Meanwhile, Hereford remains the 
ascertainable headquarters of Mrs. Siddons's near progenitors. 

The careers of renowned players are apt to open amid an 
uproar of parental objections, but Sarah Kemble was bred 
for the stage as well as born for it. Her nursery was the 
improvised greenroom of the barn; most of the men and 
women who caressed or ignored her were players ; as soon 
as she could commit to memory, recite, and drop a curtsey, she 
was led down the boards by her mother that she might help 
to boil the family pot by her baby graces. It is told how, 
at the old Brecon Theatre, on some very early occasion, of 
date not recoverable, when an audience signified, in the usual 
manner, its disapproval of the entrance of so infantile a 
phenomenon, Mrs. Kemble, adding to the quick-wittedness 
of the public performer her native decision of character, made 
the mite justify herself by an impromptu delivery of an 
apposite fable c The Boy and the Frogs/ 

" <5 Tis death to us, though sport to you, 
Unthinking, cruel boy ! ' " 

tinkled forth little Miss, and the house took her to their 




AS IT WAS IN 1755 




AS IT IS 

MRS. SIDDONS'S BIRTHPLACE 



, 




^ 



YOUNG GIRLHOOD 3 

hearts. A certain * Petronius Arbiter, Esq./ alleges of one 
of Mrs. Siddons's foremost comic contemporaries, ' Betsey ' 
Farren, that, as a girl, she used to transport the drum of her 
travelling troupe from place to place on her head. It should be 
explained that, to save handbill expenditure, the strolling com- 
panies announced their arrival in a fresh town by beat of drum, 
and if, as stated, the youngest lady really walked under the 
drum, when funds were too low for van hire, it is not impossible 
that Reynolds's Tragic Muse may have owed something of the 
caryatid poise of her neck to this utilitarian exercise, just as 
Southern peasant women owe theirs to their balanced amphorae. 
Roger Kemble was not one of those down-at-heel beings, 
seedy and servile, or blue-nosed and raffish, whom we call up at 
the word 'stroller.' Though not much of an actor, he was 
blessed with a sound mind, and was a man of placid, pleasant 
manners. His earnings averaged only ^350 per annum, we 
are to judge from an income account of his, preserved by the 
first secretary of the Garrick Club, and, in part, printed by Mr. 
Fitzgerald (Lives of the Kembles, ii. 68), but the self-respect 
that became so dominant in the next generation was well 
developed in him. For all that his brother was a barber at 
Hereford undenied, and he himself was rumoured to have cast 
aside the curling-irons and combs to 'commence actor/ he 
liked to link himself with historic ancestors, with Captain 
Richard Kemble, who saved the life of Charles II by giving him 
his horse at the battle of Worcester, and with the Venerable 
Father John Kemble, described as the speaker's great-grand- 
uncle (after whom John Philip was, partly, it may be, named), 
a proscribed priest, hanged in Hereford, his county town, on 
August 22nd, 1679, during the Gates scare. His dismembered 
body was begged by Captain Kemble, who buried it at Welsh 
Newton, and thither, ever since, on every 22nd of August, has 
fared a Catholic Pilgrimage, starting from Monmouth. The 
hand of John Kemble is preserved, in the sacristy, at the church 
of St. Francis Xavier at Hereford, and a piece of linen dipped 
in his blood is at Downside. When summoned to execution, he 
asked for time to smoke a final pipe. No actor could have 
shown more composure. A comparison of portraits of Roger 
Kemble and his children with a picture derived from the pen- 



4 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

and-ink sketch made of Father Kemble, in 1679, by the 
Governor of Hereford Gaol, shows a remarkable facial likeness, 
especially as to the long ' Kemble ' nose. 

I have heard descendants of the Kemble family bewail that 
their efforts to trace a continuous line are baffled by * the father- 
less Roger,' i.e. Roger (l) the grandfather of Mrs. Siddons. If 
the statement be correct that Father John Kemble's nephew, the 
above-mentioned Captain Richard Kemble, of Pembridge Castle, 
Welsh Newton, Herefordshire, had three sons, George, Richard, 
and Roger, it is not unthinkable that this third son, Roger, may 
have been father of 'the fatherless Roger.' Owing to the 
Kemble family having been ' recusant,' no parish register helps 
in tracing their descent, but since, in days of Catholic disabilities 
and ruinous fining, it was inevitable that many members of 
Roman Catholic families of position should sink in the social 
scale, it would not be surprising to find the landowning Captain 
Kemble's direct and near descendant, first, a wig-maker, and, 
afterwards, a vagrant comedian. " Our branch of the family/' 
said the historian, John Mitchell Kemble, elder son of Mrs. 
Siddons's brother, Charles, " descends from George Kemble of 
Pembridge Castle, as I have often heard the tradition of the 
family to be, and so to William of Wydell " [Widhill]. 

I have before me a Kemble pedigree, owned by Stephen 
Kemble's eldest grandson, the Rev. N. F. Y. Kemble, wherein 
Roger's immediate associations are thus specified (see opposite 
page). 

There is, it must freely be confessed, such a preponderance 
of uncertainty in establishing any family links above Mrs. 
Siddons's father, that the late Mr. Knight was, for summarizing 
purposes, justified in his designation (in the Dictionary of National 
Biography] of this Roger as ' head of the Kemble family.' 

While the fact that Mrs. Siddons's father was, in a mild 
way, Roman Catholic, corroborated his kinship with the 
confessor, Father John, his solicitude to belong to somebody 
gave accent to his character. From his miniature portrait in 
the Stratford-upon-Avon Memorial Collection we see that Sarah 
was featured like her father. The straight, long nose and the 
air of dignity came from him. James Boaden thought that 
Roger and his children strikingly resembled Charles the First, 



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6 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

but Mrs. Siddons said her father was very like George the 
Third, and it is hard to reconcile the two kingly likenesses. 
Boaden, who first met Roger Kemble when he was old enough 
to have 'silver curls/ found him sitting in his son John's 
library. " Our introduction to each other was at once simple 
and expressive. 'This, sir, is my father.' And, to the old 
gentleman, 'Allow me to present to you my friend, Mr. 
Boaden.' " Boaden thus inflates the simple and expressive fact 
that Roger Kemble was wearing a skull-cap : " From a peculiar 
costume that he had adopted from the liability to take cold 
(a partial silk covering for the head,) he looked to me rather 
like a dignitary of the church two centuries back, than a 
layman of the present age." 

In common with most of the other actors of my story, 
Roger Kemble had the good sense to fix his affections within 
the profession. His wife started existence as Sarah Ward. 
She was the daughter of John Ward, another strolling Manager, 
of whose corps Roger was a member, his suit being for some 
time opposed by his Sarah's father. The opposition was on 
general, not personal, grounds, if we may at all rely on this 
quaint paragraph from the Globe , December 3ist, 1807: 

" The late Mr. Ward made a solemn vow of eternal warfare 
against his daughter should she marry an actor. The young 
lady soon after married Mr. Kemble, the father of Mrs. Siddons, 
a gentleman for some time upon the stage. ' Well, my dear 
child, you have not disobeyed me, the d-v-1 himself could not 
make an actor of your husband/ " 

Variants of this story occur passim ; unfortunately, the 
pleasantry is sometimes attributed, not to Ward re Kemble, 
but to Kemble re Siddons. 

Ward, who had, as a child, played under Betterton, was 
the Manager who, at Stratford, in 1746, gave the benefit of 
Othello towards recolouring the chancel bust of Shakespeare, 
a large-minded action which, indirectly, led 'meddling' Malone, 
in horror at the gaudy pigments employed, to take up his 
whiting brush. Like his son-in-law, Ward did not fulfil the 
popular notion of an itinerant. In the irresponsible stage 
histories of his day, he is termed an Irishman for no reason 
the present investigator can discover beyond the facts that he 



YOUNG GIRLHOOD 7 

once acted (with Miss Peg Woffington) at the Aungier Street 
Theatre, Dublin, and that his daughter was born at Clonmel. 
Actually, he and his family were well known locally as 'the 
Wards of Leominster,' at Leominster they were married and 
buried, while Roger Kemble, who ' inherited ' Ward's company 
and circuit, made all his professional peregrinations in the western 
midlands, between such places as Coventry, Warwick, Worcester, 
Droitwich, Bewdley, Stourbridge, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, 
and Ludlow, with, as we have seen, a reach across the marches 
of Wales. On the tomb, dated 1773, below which lie Ward's 
bones, ' waiting for our Saviour's great Assize ' (and never did 
an epitaph better represent the Georgian religious tone), the 
defunct is ' John Ward, Gent.' Close by his are the graves of 
his near relatives, Thomas and Humphrey Ward, the first a 
'sincere Christian' of 'talents greatly successful,' the second, 
and earlier (born, 1705), something more, it would appear, than 
technically a stroller, since his inscription reads, 

"Stop traveller 

I've past and repast seas and distant lands 
Can find no rest but in my Saviour's hands." 

Mrs. Roger Kemble proved herself a fine, old-fashioned, 
Biblical mother. She brought her husband (as the phrase was) 
four sons and eight girls. The girls, according to the rule the more 
insistent religion no longer tolerates, were bred Protestants, the 
boys to the faith of their father. John Philip Kemble, intended 
for the priesthood, received his later education at Douai, in 
the still existing English Benedictines' College for the training 
of English priests, it had been the ancestral Father Kemble's 
seminary, and thither, at John Philip's charges, sixteen years 
afterwards, went his brother, Charles. 

Circumlocutory Boaden, publishing Mrs. Siddons's memoirs 
during her lifetime, remarks : " Mrs. Siddons, I have always 
understood to be senior to her brother, Mr. Kemble, by two 
years." John was born in Lancashire, at Prescott, probably 
the most outlying of the company's pitches. Charles, the 
Kembles' eleventh and penultimate child, and the only other 
who at all approached Sarah and John in brain power, came 
into the world, at Brecon, twenty years later than his eldest 



8 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

sister. The entry of his baptism, too, is in the Register of 
St. Mary's Church, and he also was baptized in the now cast- 
out font It is noticeable that the indisputable genius was the 
eldest, the next in talent the second an instance to be cited 
in opposition to those theorists who maintain that the star of 
a large family always comes midway in the list. 

Fortunately for her player-husband, Mrs. Roger Kemble 
was a woman who put her best foot foremost, and took bulls by 
their horns. 'The old lioness,' Lawrence, who painted her 
portrait, used to call her, anticipating Thackeray's ' grand old 
lioness,' to describe her grandchild, Fanny, Charles Kemble's 
elder daughter, who believed she bore a strong resemblance 
to the Kemble grandmother she never saw. She, by the 
way, suggested that Mrs. Roger was a Volumnia of real life 
to the Coriolanus of her son, John, to whom, quite in the spirit 
of this, we elsewhere read of her saying, " Sir, you are as proud 
as Lucifer!" 

Mrs. Kemble instilled into Sarah her own clear-cut articu- 
lation each syllable round and distinct ; she taught her singing 
and the harpsichord ; she vetoed Roger's engagement of an 
out-at-elbows eccentric, William Combe, the future author of 
* Dr. Syntax/ to coach her in elocution. She was no dragger-up 
of children, but a vigorous, purposeful, probably unimagi- 
native mere de famille. She died in 1806, aged seventy-one. 
Roger Kemble died in 1802, aged eighty-one. They both 
could remember having acted with Quin. 

Kemble and his wife did their best to provide the two-thirds 
of their children who survived the perils of eighteenth-century 
infancy with all the schooling attainable in untoward circum- 
stances. Migratory players' families were as liable to missing 
the three R's as canal people's, but wherever the Kemble cart 
made a protracted halt a school was sought out. At Worcester, 
a Mrs. Harris, who ruled over a certain Thornlea House, gave 
the little Sarah lessons free of charge. Mrs. Harris's other 
young ladies were prepared to make the stroller's child feel her 
position, but her magnificent usefulness on an occasion of school 
theatricals, and her talent for improvising sacque-backs for them 
all, out of grocers' stiff sugar paper, converted her into their 
heroine. We may wonder whether the day-girls brought her, 




ROGER KEMBLE 



YOUNG GIRLHOOD 9 

in tribute, those 'Worcester fat cakes' of which, forty years 
after, she fondly remembered she ' could have eaten half a dozen ' 
at a sitting. 

This Thornlea House note is one of the only two attainable 
1 traits ' of Mrs. Siddons's childhood. The other is in a different 
key, and, to the reader disposed to take more interest in her as 
a human character than as an actress, will appear even more 
significant of things to come. It narrates how she retired to 
rest one night, so absorbed in the hope of ' a pleasure party ' 
next day, which was to include the wearing of a beatific, 
brand-new, pink, or, as they said then, pink-coloured gown (the 
skirt of which, circ. 1765, we may picture as pleated in thickly 
round a long, pointed bodice), that she took with her to bed the 
Book of Common Prayer opened at the Prayer for fair Weather. 
At dawn, she was waked by a deluge against her window. She 
looked down at her sortes. The Prayer for Rain obstinately 
confronted her. Instead of tossing the talisman out of bed, she 
re-marked the petition near to her heart, and addressed her 
again to sleep. Her next experience was sunshine at rising 
and the pink-coloured gown. It seems singular that both these 
glimpses into Mrs. Siddons's child-life should concern clothes, 
seeing that she eventually became a careless dresser. We can 
better trace in her renewed trial of the cross-grained Prayer Book 
a foretaste of the tenacity, and, also, of the temperance the 
composure of her adult character. 

There can hardly be another instance of the childhood of a 
genius who belongs to the modern world which offers so little 
as Sarah Kemble's in satisfaction of our hunger for anecdote. 
What is not an anecdote, but illustrative, all the same, is the 
record of the early commencement of her lifelong devotion to 
Milton. She told Campbell that when she was ten she used 
to pore over Paradise Lost l for hours together.' It is pleasant to 
think of the serious little girl this Catholic strolling actor's 
child responding to the great Puritan's austere elevation. 

By the time she was eleven, Sarah was playing in Shake- 
speare-#w-Dryden and Davenant's Tempest, as Ariel, Chief 
Spirit ; l in Havard's King Charles the First, as the young 

1 At Worcester, April i6th, 1767, Mrs. Siddons's first recorded Shakespearean 
appearance. 



io THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Princess Elizabeth; in English operas, such as Love in a 
Village, in which she played Rosetta ; in Murphy's Grecian 
Daughter, where, tradition states, she laughed at the supremely 
tragic moment ; and in The Padlock , as Leonora. A contributor 
to Notes and Queries of April 5th, 1862, speaks of having seen 
a playbill of the theatre at Kington, Hereford, where Roger was 
Manager (and where, in 1758, his son Stephen was born), "in 
which the famous tragic actress is advertised to take the part 
of Patty in The Maid of the Mill." The apt girl was juvenile 
lead in the family company, and no longer had time to beat 
the snuffers against the candlestick to suggest the sound that 
should have been made by the windmill on the scene, which, 
in her splendid days, Combe, her intercepted professor, talking 
to Samuel Rogers, maliciously emphasised as her early employ- 
ment. At Wolverhampton, Worcester, and, no doubt, elsewhere, 
Roger Kemble evaded the responsibility of conducting a 
theatrical entertainment without a licence by the celebrated 
advertisement that the * Concert ' in three parts was free, 
but that 'a quantity of Tooth-powder (from London)' was to 
be sold at various agencies, in papers at 2s., is., or 6d. Very 
likely, Sarah's rosy ringers helped to do up those chalk-filled 
packets. 

Lamb's friend, that Cobbett-like writer, Thomas Holcroft, 
was, for some time, an assistant in the Kemble company. 
Holcroft 's theatrical experiences occurred midway between his 
nomadic and horsy youth and his play-writing and Radical 
maturity. At this stage of his career, as we learn from John 
Bernard's Retrospections of the Stage, he knew too little of spelling 
and grammar to write a passable letter, yet his self-confidence 
enabled him to apply ' for an engagement, embracing every 
good part in the cast-book.' He joined the Kembles in circum- 
stances calculated to prejudice him against them. He had 
tramped, hungry, and, as the phrase went, completely minus, 
from Leeds. On his arrival at Hereford, failing to find the 
Manager, upon whose delayed letter to him of five weeks earlier 
he had undertaken his journey, he was directed to Kemble's 
brother, the barber. The barber and the barber's wife and 
family were all indoors. They commented on his faint and 
broken appearance, suffered him to tell his story, and, at its 



YOUNG GIRLHOOD 11 

conclusion, did not even offer to fill him out a glass of ale. 
This meanness, he says in his Memoir s> made ' Mr Kemble's 
company of Comedians,' when they heard of it, 'not a little 
incensed.' 

As Holcroft joined the Kembles not earlier than 1771, he 
may never have acted with Mrs. Siddons. She married in 1773, 
and thereupon returned to the company, but for the two 
previous years she was away at Guy's Cliffe. It is hardly 
thinkable that, had he acted with the queen rosebud, Holcroft 
should not, later, have mentioned the fact. His reminiscences 
were rather with the inconspicuous of the company, and concen- 
trated themselves on a wastrel named Downing or Dunning, 
whose trollopy wife habitually stood behind the scenes, with a 
powder-puff, ready to rewhiten her George's too rubicund nose 
each time he came off. 

Under date February I2th, 1767, the playbill of King Charles 
the First, at the Worcester * Theatre,' a stable in the back yard 
of the King's Head Inn, opposite the Town Hall, contains a 
line of anticipatory interest : 

" Duke of Richmond, Mr. Siddons." 

Thus early, William Siddons (who took to the shifting stage 
as more to his taste than being a barber's apprentice, his first 
way of life) was a member of Kemble's company. Not till three 
years later did he stand confessed as a serious soupirant for the 
Manager's lovely daughter. 

Siddons was a Walsall man. Mr. Joseph Hall, of Perry 
Bar, has discovered for me, at St. Matthew's (the parish church), 
Walsall, his baptismal entry, as follows : 

" 1744. Sept. 24. William Siddons son of Joseph" 

In vol. ii. (published 1801) of the Rev. Stebbing Shaw's 
History and Antiquities of Staffordshire^ under 'Walsall,' we 
read that William Siddons's father kept a public-house (the 
1 London Apprentice ') in Rushall Street, " and met with his 
death in sparring or wrestling with one Denston." The future 
husband of England's greatest actress is first heard of, theatri- 
cally, as performing, as an amateur, in 1766, in a play, 'in the 
malt-house of Mr. Samuel Wood on the Lime-pit bank,' Walsall. 
The name ' Siddons ' is extant in Birmingham, Oundle, and 
Wellingborough. 



12 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

As we know, Sarah returned William's flame. Only less 
remarkable than the slow development of her art was the pre- 
cociousness of her womanly maturity. Bohemian circumstances 
joined to a familiar acquaintance with the speech of heroines 
make a girl a Juliet. She engaged herself to Siddons when she 
was sixteen. He was eleven years older. 

Sarah Siddons's first love-affair was the love-affair of her life. 
She was too young wooed and too early married to have had 
much previous time for the occupation later known in her own 
domestic circle as conquest-making, but the characteristic fact 
is that actress, popular idol, beautiful woman though she was, 
she never, after marriage, drifted into attachment to any one of 
the various men who might so easily have come to interest her 
more than Siddons. From being a maid she became a matron, 
but as for embroideries on either theme, would as soon have 
taken up with morpho-mania. Acting and the austere joys of 
maternity were the all-sufficient emotional outlets of this rarely 
constituted woman-artist. The little development in her of the 
sexual element is a most noteworthy fact, seeing that a great 
actress, a great courtesan, is the generalisation to which 
theatrical history largely leads. To be a great actress, most 
people would say, a woman must be plus femme que les autre* 
femmes. The constant display and constantly realised effect of 
personal charms, the perpetual, high-wrought emotionalism, 
what the late Mr. Marion Crawford termed the 'overpowering 
familiarities ' of the stage, all point one way. Yet, to this force- 
ful stream of tendency Mrs. Siddons was a grand exception. Of 
the libertinism which so often accompanies the artist that it 
seems almost a necessary element in genius she knew nothing. 
It was only a Glasgow enthusiast, ignorant of everything but 
the effect on his nerves of her acting, who could say of her, 
" She is a fallen angel ! " At the farthest remove from the more 
or less typical La Faustin of Edmond de Goncourt, she presents, 
indeed, a curious and instructive phenomenon, i.e. a woman of 
essentially Puritan nature, into which genius, that mighty wind, 
blowing where it listeth, inspired an unparalleled gift for acting. 

The girl's course of love did not run smooth. Siddons was 
handsome and looked quite the gentleman, and, by virtue of 
these qualifications, played utility in Kemble's company 



YOUNG GIRLHOOD 13 

Seneca was not too heavy, nor Plautus too light. He possessed 
another useful asset in that he had a particularly quick study. 
He could cram any part, however long, and be ' rotten perfect ' 
in a day. Beyond these three points in his favour, he had 
nothing to offer, and Mr. and Mrs. Kemble took no joy in an 
engagement they did not well know how to prevent between 
their unpractised young beauty and this moneyless swain. 
Had they recognised in him any promise of a second Powell, 
or a second ' Gentleman ' Smith, they might have taken heart, 
but they knew too much about acting for that. He, mean- 
while, deep in love, did not trouble about the misgivings of 
his fair one's encumbrances. 

At this juncture, there emerged out of a cloud of Brecon- 
shire admirers, one, Mr. Evans, with, it was understood, the 
proposals of a solid and eligible passion. In Brecon, the 
general opinion was that he had been bowled over by Sarah's 
rendering of Leonora's song to her bird in The Padlock 

"No, no, no, 

Sweet Robin, you shall not go ; 
Where, you wanton, could you be 
Half so happy as with me?" 

Evans belonged, in a small way, to the landed class. He 
had 300 a year, and was designated Squire of Pennant. 
Upon his appearance, Mr. and Mrs. Kemble must be supposed 
to have given their daughter a vivid sketch of the difference 
between ^300 a year certain and nothing a year certain, for 
Siddons, fearing the worst, proposed elopement. Sarah char- 
acteristically declined such a step. The dimness that veils 
every incident of her youth here becomes opaque, and it is 
impossible to know whether, at this point, she did not waver in 
favour of Evans. At least, Siddons thought she did. Bitter- 
ness overflowed his heart, and he rushed to her parents, and 
expressed with freedom what he thought of them. In reply, 
Kemble gave him notice, tempering the dismissal by allowing 
him a farewell benefit. 

Siddons retired to meditate an immense revenge. It took 
the form of an entr'acte imprfou, composed by himself. This 
he delivered at the above-mentioned benefit (which proved a 
bumper) between the play and the farce. We owe the disinter- 



14 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

ment of the words of Siddons's ' song ' to ' Carnhuanawc ' Price, 
who delivered them to the delighted Campbell, who said they 
were worth their weight in five-pound notes. They, at any rate, 
showed that Siddons had a long way yet to go before he could 
behave like the gentleman he looked. They commenced, 

"Ye ladies of Brecon, whose hearts ever feel 
For wrongs like to this I'm about to reveal : 
Excuse the first product, nor pass unregarded 
The complaints of poor Colin, a lover discarded. 

"At length the report [of Squire Evans's adoration] reach'd the 

ears of his flame, 

Whose nature he fear'd from the source whence it came ; 
She acquainted her ma'a, who, her ends to obtain, 
Determin'd poor Colin to drive from the plain." 

There were nine more verses, and they all rhymed. Through- 
out his life, Siddons had a readiness at vers d 'occasion. 

The canticle was in egregiously bad taste, but poor Colin, 
standing down at the floats, with, we may be sure, his fair face 
deeply flushed with agitation, was in earnest. Sentiment, per- 
secuted by worldly wisdom, is a safe theatrical stop, and the 
Breconians, already hugely interested in the affair, and with all 
an audience's fine carelessness as to a matter touching them- 
selves so little as the financial irresponsibility of an actress's 
would-be husband, applauded him vociferously. But, as Colin 
went off the stage, trailing clouds of glory, an anticlimax 
occurred. Mrs. Kemble met him at the greenroom door, and 
Colin was clouted. Boxing ears was, at that period, the 
recognised expression of feminine disapprobation. 

The fact of Siddons being thus finally presented with the 
key of the street either did nothing to encourage the Squire of 
Pennant Sarah's Protestant to be, or, if it did, he was refused. 
Mrs. Kennard thinks Sarah was unnaturally tolerant in clinging 
to a sweetheart who had sung concerning her 

" a jilt is the devil, as has long been confess'd, 
Which a heart like poor Colin's must ever detest," 

but, clearly, she forgave him for the excellent reason that love 
for her had turned his brain amantes, amentes. We others 
may rejoice that, by remaining staunch to her poor player, 



YOUNG GIRLHOOD 15 

instead of showing herself a girl of spirit, she was not untimely 
torn from her vocation as the queen of tragedy to become 
instead a queen of curds and cream, as wife to an agricultural 
Welshman. 

No doubt, there were tears, headaches, and words. It ended, 
for the time being, in Sarah's accepting a situation, at 10 a 
year, in the service of Lady Mary Greatheed, of Guy's Cliffe, 
Warwick. The engagement between herself and her sweet 
William was ratified. Her parents, though retiring in good 
order, had been beaten. Such is nature's kindly law. 

Lady Mary Greatheed, the widow of Samuel Greatheed, 
M.P. for Coventry (ob. 1765), was born Lady Mary Bertie, a 
daughter of Peregrine, second Duke of Ancaster. Her son, Bertie 
Greatheed, was eleven in 1771. It was this son's granddaughter, 
Anne Caroline Greatheed, whose marriage, in 1823, with Lord 
Charles Percy, son of the first Earl of Beverley, eventually 
brought the Guy's Cliffe property into the hands of its present 
owner, the Duke of Northumberland's brother, Lord Algernon 
Percy, to whose kindness in showing me various Kemble relics 
and pictures I am much indebted. It remains hard to say 
precisely what duties Sarah Kemble was originally engaged to 
fulfil in the Greatheed household. In the family to-day it is 
believed that her employment was that of reader, or companion- 
reader, and, in all probability, it was into the congenial 
specialty of reading aloud that she drifted ; but, in view of the 
fact that Bertie Greatheed told Miss Williams Wynn he had 
' been in the habit of hearing Mrs. Siddons read Macbeth even 
from the period of her being his mother's maid,' we may perhaps 
suppose that she entered on her duties in the elastic capacity of 
maid-companion, but that her brains and refinement soon caused 
the companion to predominate over the tirewoman. We know 
that she constantly read her beloved Milton to the Greatheeds, 
and we can guess what a brave new world their many books 
opened to her. Not the least interesting of the few records of 
this early connection of hers with Guy's Cliffe is a remark Lady 
Mary Greatheed made to ' Conversation ' Sharp to the effect 
that she used always to feel an irresistible inclination to rise 
from her chair when her queenly-looking dependent entered the 
room. The Duchess of Ancaster told the Rev. John Genest 



16 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

that, when Lady Mary stayed with her in Lincolnshire, she 
brought Mrs. Siddons with her, and the ci-devant young actress 
" was fond of spouting in the servants' hall." The third Duke, 
then Lord Brownlow Bertie, used to listen to her, and used, 
also, presumably, to bring enthusiastic reports into the drawing- 
room, for Lady Mary said, " Brother, don't encourage the girl, 
you will make her go on the stage." 

It is interesting to speculate on what so impossible a ' young 
female ' as Sarah Kemble learnt from the serene orderliness of 
her surroundings at Lady Mary's. The glitter of the table 
silver must have meant a new standpoint, the mouldings of the 
doors should have been a liberal education. There was much 
in her temperament that responded to the new atmosphere, and, 
while, in years to come, she was to grow intimately familiar 
with many of the stately homes of England, now, manifestations 
of wealth and taste and high position were rendered trebly 
telling by their contrast to the scrambling existence sordid 
lodgings, ill-bred associates, and many mortifications that 
made up, not only life's daily portion in a strolling Manager's 
family, but all she had hitherto known of the world. 

Of the romantic beauty of the Guy's Cliffe estate many a 
better poet had sung before that genuine admirer of ' elegant 
nature,' the Rev. Richard Jago, who visited at the house 
during Mrs. Siddons's period, discovered that 

"Here the calm scene lulls the tempestuous breast 
To sweet composure." 

At this * Place meet for the Muses/ 1 in 1772, Miss Kemble 
may well have sat at a mullioned upper window, as she did, 
thirty years later, at Conway Castle there, too, the river, 
beneath, ' glowing in the balmy sunshine till [the quoted words 
are from her devoted Patty Wilkinson's travel diary] she 
seemed absorbed in a luxuriant reverie.' The thoughts of youth 
are long, long thoughts, and Sarah's at Guy's Cliffe were a 
chaos of simmering artistic impulses blent with tenderness for 
a man, whom she saw on a glorified plane, as actors are seen 
across the lamps. So foolish is a girl that one must be certainly 
right in imagining that Sarah's happiest moments in this 
1 So Leland described Guy's Cliffe (The Itinerary, iv. Part the Second). 



-sb 




GUY'S CLIFFE 



YOUNG GIRLHOOD 17 

picturesque place were when Siddons (entering by the back door) 
came to visit her, and they could stroll to the mill, or, under the 
great cedars, to Guy's Cave above the mirroring Avon, and 
laugh over their ancient misunderstanding, and drink together 
at the wishing spring to the golden age, ahead, of mutual 
happiness one and indivisible. 

About two years passed before the day arrived when Sarah 
bade a respectful farewell to the mistress who had treated her with 
uniformly cordial encouragement. Little could either foresee 
how, within a comparatively brief period, relative positions 
would alter, and how the heir of that lordly house would, one 
day, tremblingly offer his tragedy to ' his mother's maid,' and be 
described by her as the ' poor young man.' 

On November 26th, 1773, William Siddons and Sarah 
Kemble, the latter then eighteen, became, in Sir Peter Teazle's 
phrase, involved in matrimony. The ceremony took place in 
Trinity Church, Coventry ; Roger gave his daughter away ; and, 
no doubt, the pew-opener agreed with the clerk that the bride 
and bridegroom were an uncommonly well-matched couple. 

No unobstructed horizon lay before Sarah and her * Sid. 1 
It was arranged that, at any rate for awhile, they should both 
resume work on the Kemble circuit, and Sarah was, for the 
first time, announced as ' Mrs. Siddons/ on a Worcester playbill, 
December I3th, 1773. 



II 

FALSE DAWN 

IN the spring of 1775, Mrs. Siddons was acting, with 
Younger's company, in Liverpool. " Have you ever 
heard," inquired Garrick, writing, in April, to the ideal 
stage Irishman, John Moody, at Liverpool, "of a woman 
Siddons, who is strolling about somewhere near you ? " 

To be continually on the look-out for new blood is part of 
the art of Management, and Garrick had his spies and critics 
always ready to run down, sometimes to unlikely places, to 
report on the likely article. There was a William Stone at 
Drury Lane Theatre whom he so habitually employed in 
recruiting about London for subordinate actors that the 
fellow acquired the sobriquet of The Theatrical Crimp. The 
same office, in a higher walk, was fulfilled by several people. 

Garrick had first heard the name of the ' woman Siddons ' 
from the Countess of Albany's cousin, Lord Bruce, in 1776 
created Earl of Ailesbury. In 1774, the married adventurers, 
William and Sarah Siddons, were acting at Cheltenham Wells, 
during the water-drinking season, with Chamberlain and Crump's 
company, of which Siddons appears to have been, at the time, 
part Manager. Their appointments were, in all probability, 
extremely humble. When that extraordinary creature, ' Becky ' 
Wells, played a star engagement at Cheltenham, in 1789, she 
descanted on the contrast between that and her former 
theatrical visit there; then, she had arrayed herself for Juliet 
in an actresses' dressing-room only divided from the actors' by 
a torn blanket. 

One evening, Lord Bruce and his stepdaughter, the Hon. 
Henrietta Boyle, turned in to the Cheltenham Theatre in a 
mood of indulgent good humour. The play was Otway's 



FALSE DAWN 19 

Venice Preserved, and the well-versed pair expected, at best, 
to enjoy a suppressed smile out of the antics and mouthings 
of the poor creatures behind the floats. They proved them- 
selves unprejudiced enough to acknowledge a good thing when 
they found it. Indeed, Miss Boyle cried so hard over the pathos 
and tenderness of one young tragedienne, Siddons by name, that 
the sound of her sobs convinced that sensitive actress she was 
being tittered at, and sent her home in an agony of vexation. 

Next morning, Lord Bruce, walking in Cheltenham, met 
William Siddons. He bowed to the actor, and then accosted 
him, actors being public property, with a few well-chosen words 
of compliment and what words of compliment from a noble 
lord would have seemed other than well-chosen? on Mrs. 
Siddons's beautiful acting, after which he begged for his 
daughter the pleasure of waiting on Mrs. Siddons at her 
lodgings. Quick and self-reliant, Miss Boyle at once discovered 
that, under the shabby surroundings of this obscure premiere, 
she had lighted upon a lady in grain.' The two made friends. 
Mrs. Siddons I quote a serious work on the girlhood of 
extraordinary women, published in 1857 "was naturally 
greatly lifted up by the praise of honourable and noble persons, 
whose rank was a sure guarantee of the soundness of their 
judgment." Miss Boyle lent Mrs. Siddons finery, imparted the 
latest ideas on chiffons, herself ran together stage-costume 
adornments. When next in London, Lord Bruce took an 
opportunity of naming their Cheltenham Belvidera to Garrick, 
as a diamond in a dust-heap, a dove trooping with crows. We 
know enough of him whom friends called the great little man, 
and enemies the little great man, to be sure that the fact that 
she had been recommended by a peer engraved all the more 
deeply the new name of Siddons in Garrick's mental notebook. 
As a newspaper correspondent phrases it, writing, in 1823, to 
the editor of the Courier, " The late Earl of Aylesbury excited 
Garrick's earnest attention." 

For all his charming deference to aristocratic acquaintances, 
our David was not the man to rely for a final artistic opinion, 
involving his subsequent cash and credit, on any one but him- 
self, or another stage expert. As a matter of fact, and without 
counting Moody, referred to above, he employed two experts 



20 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

on the Siddons quest. One was Tom King, who saw her, at 
Cheltenham, as Calista, in Rowe's The Fair Penitent, and re- 
ported enthusiastically. The other was the Rev. Henry Bate, 
who did not see her till some months later, when Garrick was 
sighing for a new sultana to correct the caprices of Mesdames 
Abington, Yates, and Younge. 

Parson Bate, J.P., M.F.H., who edited the Morning Post, and 
was, as the ever delightful Boaden remarks, ' lay in his manners,' 
has never been accused of lacking brains, and the two letters he 
wrote to Garrick, on August 1 2th and ipth, 1775, from the Hop- 
pole, Worcester, giving his impressions of Mrs. Siddons's extra- 
ordinariness and Mr. Siddons's ordinariness, are much to the 
point. He was accompanied on his quest by Mrs. Bate, ' whose 
judgment in theatrical matters/ he writes, he has ' a high opinion 
of/ This was the lady of whom Gainsborough made the 
portrait (Lady Bate Dudley] which, lent by the late Lord Burton, 
formed one of the greater glories of the British Fine Art Section 
in the Franco-British Exhibition, 1908. Her husband's portrait, 
by Gainsborough, hangs in Room XX of the National Gallery. 

Bate tells Garrick that Mrs. Siddons as Rosalind was not 
only beautiful and original (yet tempered by an unremitting re- 
gard for the moderation of nature) but that ' in the latter humbug 
scene with Orlando' she ' did more with it ' than any one he ever 
saw, ' not even your divine Mrs. Barry excepted.' Truth compels 
him to say he thought her voice dissonant, even grating ; he is, 
at the same time, inclined to think this only an error of affecta- 
tion, for he ' found it wear away as the business became more 
interesting/ So conquered is the critic that he goes on, " I 
should not wonder, from her ease, figure, and manner, if she 
made the proudest she of either house tremble in genteel 
comedy nay, beware yourself, Great Little Man, for she plays 
Hamlet to the satisfaction of the Worcestershire critics." He 
adds that, as there must be no thought of not engaging her, he 
has taken the initial steps, since he c learnt that some of the 
Covent Garden Mohawks were intrenched near the place, and 
intended carrying her by surprise.' He says that the couple 
are eagerly ready to put themselves under Garrick's protection, 
but that the lady 'declined proposing any terms, leaving it 
entirely with you/ Bate winds up by apologising for having 



FALSE DAWN 21 

written, he supposes, 'a damned jargon of unintelligible stuff 
in haste.' 

Garrick's reply which I have only seen in print, as a 
newspaper cutting from an ancient number of the Courier 
is, for its writer's sake and its rarity, worth transcribing. I 
omit two or three sentences, in which Roscius inquires, in 
terms too unmuffled for modern eyes, concerning Mrs. Siddons's 
approaching confinement (her first child, Henry, was now ten 
months old), desiring to know at what date she will again be 
1 fit for service.' 

"HAMPTON, August 15, 1775 

"DEAR BATE, Ten thousand thanks for your very clear, 
agreeable, and friendly letter : it pleased me much, and who- 
ever calls it a jargon of unintelligible stuff, should be knocked 
down if I were near him. I must desire you to secure the 
lady, with my best compliments, and that she may depend 
upon every reasonable encouragement in my power; at the 
same time, you must intimate to the husband, that he must 
be satisfied with the State of life in which it has pleased Heaven 
to call her. . . . Should not you get some memorandum signed 
by her and her husband, and of which I will send a fac-simile 
copy to them, and a frank, if you will let me know their address. 

" I laughed at the military stratagems of the Covent Garden 
Generals, whilst I had your genius to [ ? ] them. If she has 
merit (as I am sure by your letter she must have) and will 
be wholly governed by me, I will make her theatrical fortune ; 
if any lady begins to play tricks, I will immediately play off 
my masked battery of Siddons against her. I should be glad 
to know her cast of parts, or rather what parts she has done, 
and in what she likes herself best. Those I would have 
marked . . . 

" I am, my dear Farmer, 1 most sincerely yours, 

"D. GARRICK" 

Four days later, Bate sent Garrick a list of Mrs. Siddons's 
twenty-three leading characters. Of the seven she herself 
preferred, three were tragic, and four comic. Among the 
latter were Portia and Rosalind. She did not mark her two 
tragic Shakespearean parts, Juliet and Cordelia. Bate added, 
" It would be unjust not to remark one circumstance in favour 
of them both ; I mean the universal good character they have 
1 In reference to Bate's agricultural proclivities. 



22 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

preserved here." In a postscript, he subjoins, " She is the most 
extraordinary quick study I ever heard of." 

The negotiations went forward. The Siddonses gave 
notice at their headquarters. Garrick advanced money to 
tide them over the forthcoming illness and any short period 
in London before appearance. 

None of the Garrick-Bate letters appear in The Private 
Correspondence of David Garrick, edited by Boaden in 1831. 
The only document bearing on the transaction to be found 
there is a letter to William Siddons, dated December I3th, 
1775, from John de la Bere, reporting to him the indignation 
of ' Mr. Blackwell ' and ' the gentlemen of Covent-garden 
theatre' at Mrs. Siddons's having engaged herself to Garrick 
after having been previously in treaty with them for the 
latter part of the winter season. " They consider her subse- 
quent engagement to Mr. Garrick as an infringement of the 
agreement subsisting between them and Drury-lane." From 
this it would appear that some sort of stipulation existed 
between the two * Winter Theatres ' (i.e. Drury Lane and 
Covent Garden) as to not infringing on each other's overtures 
to actors while such overtures were proceeding. The letter 
concludes : " I have only to recommend it to your consideration, 
whether you will not, on the footing of the agreement between 
the two houses, lose the chance of getting into either, and to 
add that Mr. Blackwell has taken up this affair with great 
resolution, on the part of Covent-garden, and he says that 
Mrs. Siddons absolutely promised him to drop all thoughts 
of connecting herself with Drury-lane." Clearly, Mrs. 
Siddons's acting had made a sensation, and, equally clearly, 
the Siddons pair had not been guiltless of sitting on the 
fence between the Lane and the Garden. 

It had been calculated that Mrs. Siddons would be ' fit for 
service' early in December, and, on November 9th, her 
husband acquainted their prospective employer that, on the 
5th inst., she had 'produc'd him a fine girl.' The twenty-year- 
old wage-earner was taken ill while acting, at Gloucester, a 
few hours previously. Had a longer reposeful time followed, 
the story of her first siege of London might possibly have 
been other than it was. 



FALSE DAWN 23 

The two probationers, accompanied by two babies ' off their 
feet/ little Henry and the * fine girl/ Sarah Martha later, the 
' Sally ' Siddons of a tragic real-life story reached London 
before the middle of December. Mrs. Siddons felt she was 
on the first rung of the ladder. The agreement was informal, 
but Garrick promised her five pounds a week, a salary which, 
before she began to draw it, must have appeared to her a 
Golconda. Unfortunately, more than a third of the season 
was over. 

Boaden tells a weak-kneed story to the effect that, prior 
to her marriage, she had journeyed to London, and recited 
to Garrick from Rowe's tragedy, Jane Shore. This statement 
is uncorroborated, and, as to date, improbable. Quite possibly, 
now, on her enrolment in his corps, the patentee, at their 
initial meeting, asked for a taste of her quality, and was given 
some speeches of Jane Shore's or Alicia's. It would be hard 
to imagine a prettier subject for a genre painting than the first 
interview between Mrs. Siddons and Garrick. 

" His praises were most liberally conferred upon me," wrote 
Mrs. Siddons, long years afterwards, in the autograph Memoranda 
she bequeathed to Campbell. It would not, one imagines, have 
taken the oracle as she called Garrick many minutes to find 
out various facts about her, besides the obvious one that she 
was (in Johnson's phrase) towering in confidence of twenty- 
one. Except electricity, nothing is more rapid than an 
experienced actor's recognition of the professional standard. 

Garrick selected for Mrs. Siddons's debut an important, if, to 
a pathetic actress, not very grateful, Shakespearean part, Portia. 
It was, at least, one that Bate had underlined at her request, a 
strange fact, since there was no scope for passion in it. Later, 
she herself realised the deficiency of the r61e and grumbled at 
Garrick for imposing it on her. There can be little doubt that, 
before she came to London, and while she stayed in London, 
she was accounted, and accounted herself, on the whole, a 
comedy rather than a tragedy actress. King was her Shylock, 
and Tom Davies's ' very pretty wife ' her Nerissa. The play was 
given on a Friday, December 29th, 1775 anc * on the bill Mrs. 
Siddons appeared as ' a Young Lady (being her first appearance)/ 
The poor girl was found wanting. She tottered and 



24 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

trembled, and her voice could not get over the footlights. 
Inadequacy seemed to stand confest. By the Trial scene, she 
had somewhat rallied, but still her tones were so weak as often 
to be inaudible a defect that must have been fatal to the con- 
fident, declamatory style playgoers associate with that special 
1 bit of fat,' the Quality of Mercy speech. Next day, with the 
exception of Bate, or his mouthpiece, in the Morning Post, the 
critics, to a man, condemned her. Woodfall's paper, the Morn- 
ing Chronicle, advised her ' to throw more fire and spirit into her 
performance/ the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser found her, 
on account of * monotony ' and of ' a vulgarity in her tones,' ill 
calculated to ' sustain that line in a theatre she has at first been 
held forth in.' The utmost praise of her acting to which her 
part discoverer, Bate, ventured now to commit the Morning 
Post was a vague opinion that ' her FORTE seems to be that of 
enforcing the beauties of her author by an emphatic though easy 
art, almost peculiar to herself.' Her painful timidity, the quality 
of all others embarrassing to an audience assembled for enjoy- 
ment, was dwelt on by all. 

Had the ' Diurnal Writers' of 1775 appreciated the obstacles 
against which the debutant laboured, one of them, perhaps, 
might have thought her worth a word of encouragment. She 
was in feeble health a seven-weeks' mother. Except for what 
natural genius had taught her, she was an unlessoned girl, 
unschooled in the endless fine shades of those trained artists, the 
socie'taires of Drury Lane. Lastly, she was already writhing 
under the jealous disdain of the regnant queens of the green- 
room. Who was this raw nobody ', that she should have a Shake- 
spearean heroines part ? Poor, dear Mr. Garrick must be growing 
reckless on the eve of his retirement at any rate y extremely ill- 
judged. And, oh la, what clothes ! For Portia, a faded, salmon- 
coloured sacque and coat salmon-coloured, forsooth, and obviously 
second-hand. Did Mr. Bensley or Mr. Brereton murmur ' elegant 
figure ' f Yes well it never would have occurred to them. 
There was no brilliancy, no style, no je ne s^ais quoi and each 
fair one looked still more conscious as she contributed her self- 
descriptive term. Indeed and to drop a totally uninteresting 
subject the sooner the poor thing trundled back to her barns, the 
better they had no wish to detain her. Such was the attitude of 



FALSE DAWN 25 

sister-women. The aggrieved ladies called her ' Garrick's Venus,' 
and on whichever noun they placed the accent, we may imagine 
the title received additional sting. 

She was ' Venus ' because, on her first night, and, again, 
later, she walked in that character in the afterpiece, ' the Jubilee,' 
a replica of the pageant arranged for Garrick's Shakespeare 
Festival at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1769, and abandoned there, 
on account of disastrous weather. As a revival, on the boards in 
London, ( the Jubilee ' was a big success, in spite of the objections 
made by the leading members of the company to demeaning 
themselves by walking as the mere ' shadows ' of Shakespearean 
characters that some of them had never even been associated 
with. It was in the last scene of this revival that the c Ladies, 
worthy creatures ! ' as William, better known as ' Gentleman,' 
Smith ironically calls them in a letter to Garrick, tried to block 
out Venus from the sight of the audience, while Garrick 
(smilingly, we may be sure) frustrated their intentions by 
deliberately leading her down to the front of the stage. Little 
Tom Dibdin was Venus's Cupid, whom to keep of a cheerful 
countenance Mrs. Siddons bribed with a promise of sugarplums 
at the fall of the curtain. While Tom was away, not well 
(whether from digestive upset consequent on the sugarplums is 
not stated) a Master Mills personated Cupid. " I could have 
killed that boy," says Dibdin. However, when he returned, 
Mrs. Siddons comforted him by saying, " I did not like Master 
Mills so well as I do you." The first words Dibdin heard Mrs. 
Siddons utter, " Ma'am, could you favour me with a pin ? " were 
addressed to Mrs. Garrick's maid, when one of Cupid's wings 
dropped off 

If Garrick had had no conviction that Mrs. Siddons possessed 
the makings of a fine actress, why should he have continued to 
risk the reputation of the theatre to whose welfare he had, for 
twenty-nine years, scrupulously subordinated every personal 
consideration by giving valuable parts to this novice who had 
been so willing to come to him in all humbleness, without con- 
tract of any kind ? Why did he not relegate her from the rank 
occupied by Mrs. Yates, Miss Younge, and Miss Wrighten to 
the below-the-salt position of Mrs. Davies and Miss Sherry and 
Miss Hopkins, the prompter's daughter, all pretty women, but 



26 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

negligible actresses, who " appeared and disappeared," as 
Holcroft has it in his Theatrical Recorder , " merely to fill up the 
routine " ? Instead, and in spite of the unfavourable criticisms, 
not only did he put her on for better work, viz. to act with 
himself in his final performances of Richard III, as Lady Anne, 
and of Hoadly's The Suspicious Husband, as Mrs. Strictland to 
his Ranger, but, partly, no doubt, out of mischief and a 
pardonable desire to punish the other ladies, he handed her, in 
the greenroom, from her own seat to a chair next his own, he 
paid her perhaps exaggerated respect, he gave her a place in the 
boxes to see his farewell round of parts. 

I like to think of the lessons Mrs. Siddons received, on her 
off evenings, as she watched those versatile passages of byplay, 
those surpassing soliloquies and ' side-speeches,' all that Diderot 
called Garrick's ' singerie sublime' Siddons was a woman, and 
Garrick a man, and his acting was, as far as any art can be, 
realism, while hers was destined to bring in, or revive, on the 
whole, an idealising method of representation, yet the very fact 
of seeing the great actor so earnest in his art was in itself an 
unforgetable education. 

The whole sentiment of Drury Lane Theatre under Garrick 
must have made a tremendous impression upon the young 
actress, an impression bound, when leisure for the mind's 
reaction came, to stimulate in her every kind of professional 
ambition. After the rough-and-tumble, the paper wings, hoop 
chandelier, and superannuated scenery, the half-understood 
ignominy of strolling arrangements, she found herself on a 
stage sentinelled by two of the King's soldiers, and before 
a house so adroitly managed that, in Garrick's great scenes, 
hush men were stationed in various parts of the auditorium, 
to ' hist ' along the thrilling silence he required. 

The lessons she received from ' the sovereign of the stage ' 
came not only by informal observation. He always took 
infinite trouble over training his players. Kitty Clive bore 
witness to this when she described him, ' with lamb-like 
patience,' ' endeavouring to beat ' his ' ideas into the heads of 
creatures who had none of their own.' In evidence, one of the 
* creatures,' Edward Cape Everard, calling himself, on the title- 
page of his book, * Pupil of the late David Garrick, Esq./ states 



FALSE DAWN 27 

that Garrick, reprimanding him after a rehearsal for his * boyish 
blunder' of averring that he would play better on the night, 
said, "If you cannot give a speech, or make love to a table, 
chair, or marble, as well as to the finest woman in the world, 
you are not, nor ever will be a great actor." Garrick gave 
Mrs. Siddons definite suggestions towards improving her acting. 
He told her, as Lady Anne, not to move her arm in the stiff, 
exaggerated way she did, and that the management of her arms 
constituted one of her early difficulties we are reminded in 
Walpole's letter to the Countess of Upper Ossory, dated 
November 3rd, 1782, where he says, " Her action is proper, but 
with little variety ; when without motion, her arms are not 
genteel." 

Unfortunately, Mrs. Siddons did not take this correction 
well. She assigned to it the motive that Garrick could not bear 
her to shade the tip of his nose as she put it. This amounted 
to saying that he would have vetoed any acting, however 
transcendent, on her part, if, for an instant, it diverted attention 
from Garrick an idle charge. No great actor ever objected to 
good byplay on a subordinate's part, for the simple reason that 
all byplay that emphasises the scene is so much assistance to 
himself. Mrs. Siddons gradually deluded herself into a fixed 
idea the readiest salve to wounded vanity that her non- 
success, at Drury Lane, in 1776, arose from the Manager's not 
pushing her as he might have done had he not feared for his 
own predominance. 

Garrick certainly told her that if he gave her the best parts, 
the other gentle creatures of the greenroom to wit, Mrs. Yates 
and Miss Younge would poison her. It is noticeable that 
Mrs. Abington, the comedy queen, was not named. She, most 
likely, felt, throughout, that the Siddons never could be her 
rival, and this may account for the fact, stated by Sheridan, 
that when the next Management dismissed Mrs. Siddons, 
Mrs. Abington alone called them fools. Garrick might truth- 
fully have told his new ' Young Lady ' that, if he permitted her 
to be Drury Lane's feminine mainstay on his own off nights, 
the receipts would fall off considerably, in view of the continued 
non-approbation of press and public. They did not think her 
worth the trouble of a hiss. ' Lamentable ' was the unequivocal 



28 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

word employed by the London Magazine for May, 1776, to 
sum up her performance of Lady Anne. 

Temperament and genius must always vary, but it is none 
the less strange to contrast the slow, wavering rate at which 
Mrs. Siddons's art developed with the art of Garrick, which, 
sufficiently, at all events, for universal applause, ' reach'd 
perfection in' its 'first essay/ when, on October ipth, 1741, 
he played Richard III at Goodman's Fields. At the time 
Mrs. Siddons came upon the ' D. L.' scene, Garrick, then within 
six months of his last appearance there, was, both as an artist 
and socially, in his full sunset glory. Everybody who was 
anybody was caressing him, and fighting for places to see him 
play. 

Remembering Mrs. Siddons's disgust at what she called 
1 the fulsome adulation that courted Garrick in the Theatre/ one 
cannot contemplate the account she gave of her uncomfortable 
relations with that distinguished man without a vivid suspicion 
that one direction in which the young lady was lacking lay 
in reluctance to pay compliments. If, during this winter season, 
she had been something less of a Cordelia, if she had heaved 
her heart (or words to that effect) into her mouth, and assured 
Garrick that his Kitely was luminous, Miss Younge that her 
Zara was divine, and ' Moll ' Yates (at. forty-eight) that the 
whole audience took her for twenty-five, we might have traced, 
in the record of 1776, a lubricant we miss. 

Everything Garrick said or did was a grievance to Mrs. 
Siddons in her overwrought condition, battling, as she thought 
herself, for life, in a supreme current of fortune. It is more 
remarkable that subsequent success never brought her its usual 
accompaniment of placable after-judgment When John Taylor 
repeated to her Sheridan's opinion of Garrick's Eichard III as 
' very fine, but not terrible enough/ she exclaimed, ' Good God ! 
what could be more terrible ? ' and proceeded to tell him that, 
ivhile rehearsing Lady Anne to Garrick's Richard, in the morning, 
Garrick requested that when, at night, he led her from * the sofa/ 
she would follow him step by step, because he did a great deal 
with his face, and wished not to turn it from the audience ; * but 
[she went on] such was the terrific impression his acting produced 
upon her, that she was much too absorbed to proceed, and obliged 



By His M A J E S T Y 9 * COMPANY, 

At the Theatre Royal In Drury-Lane 

This prefent MONDAY, May 27, .1776, 
Will be preferred a TRAGEDY, call'd 

KINGRlCHARDtheTHiRD. 

King Richard by Mr. GAR RICK, 

(Being his Firft Appearance in that Character thefe 4 Years). 

Richmond by Mr. PALMER, 

Buckingham by Mr. JEFFERSON, 

Tre/Tel by Mr. D A V I E S, 

Lord Stanley by Mr. B R A N S B Y, 

Norfolk by Mr. H U R S T, 

Catefby by Mr, PACKER, 

Prince Edward by Mifs P. HOPKINS, 

Duke of York Mafter PULLEY, Lord Mayor Mr GRIFFITHS, 

Ratcliffe by Mr. WRIGHT, Lieutenant by Mr. FA.WCETT, 

King Henry by Mr. REDDISH, 
Lady Anne (Firft Time) Mrs. SIDDONS, 

Butchers of York by Mrs. JOHNSTON, 

Queen by Mrs. HOPKINS. 

To which will be added 

The DEVIL to PAY. 

Sir John Loverule by Mr. V E R N O N, 

Jobfon by Mr. MOOD Y, 
Lady Loverule by Mrs. JOHNSTON, 
Nell by Mrs. WR1GHTEN. " 

Indies are Jefortt to fend (fair Servants a little after 5 to hep Places* fo prevent Covfufion. 

The Doors will be opened at Half after FIVE o'CIock 
To begin exactly at Half after SIX o'CIock. Vivant Rex & Regina. 

To-morrow, (by particular Defjre) BRAGANZA, with Bon Ton, or High Life above Stair" 
(Being the laft Time of performing thtm this Seafon.) 

And Dancing by Mr. SLINGSBY and Signora PACINL 

A PLAYBILL THAT COMBINES THE TWO GREATEST NAMES OF THE 
ENGLISH STAGE 



FALSE DAWN 29 

him, therefore, to turn his back, on which he gave her such a 
terrible frown, that she was always disturbed when she re- 
collected it.' 

Though Garrick was constitutionally unsympathetic to failure, 
she could not charge him with any more unkind overt act than 
that he once frowned at her to remind her she was being guilty 
of a dereliction of obvious stage duty. Actresses on the defensive 
are kittle cattle, and, at this juncture, I would not (to use Mr. 
Shandy's phrase) give a cherrystone to choose between Clive, 
the ' mixture of combustibles/ Gibber, the * greatest plague ' be- 
cause the most persistent of Garrick's ladies, Abington, ' the 
worst of bad women,' as, in his exasperation, he called her, and 
our illustrious Sarah Siddons. When it comes to a blow to 
their self-importance, they are all in a tale. Such is the toll the 
profession of acting takes from feminine good sense. 

Garrick's period of unweariable, well-organised work closed 
on June loth, 1776, and that was the final night (already delayed 
beyond the customary annual closing date) of the season for 
which Mr. and Mrs. Siddons had been engaged. Mrs. Siddons's 
last occasion of acting with Garrick was June 5th, when, for the 
third time, she ' supported ' the character of Lady Anne to his 
Richard. It was a royal command night. 

Whatever Garrick might have done for our heroine in an 
ensuing season had now to be undertaken, or let alone, by his 
successors in Management, Willoughby Lacy, Sheridan, Linley, 
and Ford. Years afterwards, when Garrick was safely dead, 
Sheridan used to tell the tragic queen that the outgoing 
Manager had made remarks adverse to her re-engagement. 
This, coming whence it did, was, at least, doubtful, whereas it 
should be noticed that a heedless public had made no sign to 
justify new men in retaining her. 

The most crushing sentence on her acting appeared when, 
after she had played Julia, the girl's part, in Bate's The 
Blackamoor Washed White, the Morning Chronicle of Friday, 
February 2nd, observed of the preceding evening's cast, " All 
played well, except Mrs. Siddons, who endeavoured to support 
her character, but having no comedy in her nature, she rendered 
that ridiculous which the author evidently designed to be 
pleasant" Here was a tyro openly arraigned of 'having no 



30 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

comedy in her nature,' yet Garrick had evidently thought her 
less apt at tragedy, or he would not have given her a greater 
number of comedy-young-lady parts. It is worth noticing, 
as showing how the timid and impressible actress fluctuated, 
that, in a separate paragraph of ' Theatrical Intelligence/ in the 
Saturday's Morning Chronicle, we may read, " Mrs. Siddons 
yesterday evening played Julia much better than on Thursday." 

Mrs. Siddons and her husband confidently expected re- 
engagement. Garrick had promised no doubt, in his 'hey, 
why now yes, now, really, I think Mrs. Garrick is waiting ' 
way to do his best to pass them on, and they themselves saw 
no commercial nor artistic reason for their being passed over. 
They were playing a summer engagement in Birmingham when 
the sword fell in the shape of a formal letter from the Drury 
Lane prompter, W. Hopkins (whose daughter John Kemble 
was, in 1787, to marry), to tell them that their services would 
not be required the following season. 

Mortification made Mrs. Siddons ill. " For a year and a 
half I was supposed to be hastening to a decline." The castles 
in Spain had toppled down, and she was bound in miseries 
free to make what provincial engagements she could. Her 
ever-smouldering rancour is eloquent in this sentence she penned 
in old age " For the sake of my poor children I roused myself 
to shake off this despondency, and my endeavours were blest 
with success, in spite of the degradation I had suffered in being 
banished from Drury Lane as a worthless candidate for fame 
and fortune." That terrible sense of frustration which drives a 
weak soul into inactivity drove Mrs. Siddons into increased 
seriousness and harder work. She resolved ' to shake off this 
despondency.' Steadiness of pursuit is the ruling character- 
istic of strong natures. " The time will come when you will 
hear me." 



Ill 

MRS. SIDDONS OF THE BATH THEATRE 

FOR two years and a quarter, between the date when Drury 
Lane gave Mrs. Siddons her congt and the date when 
she became attached to the Bath Theatre, she and her 
husband were connected with various provincial stock companies. 
Throughout the summer and autumn of 1776, they were at 
Birmingham and Liverpool, under the Management of Yates 
and Joseph Younger. 

The gallery of the new theatre in New Street, Birmingham, 
echoed the London verdict on the weakness of Mrs. Siddons's 
voice. "She motions nicely, but she can't shout out loud," 
declared a spokesman of the Birmingham gods. From them, 
and still under Younger's Management, she passed on to 
Manchester, where, as at Liverpool, Hamlet was one of her 
applauded efforts. Though she did not achieve a new Hamlet 
what can a woman's Hamlet ever be but a tour de force! 
the character appealed to her intellectual seriousness, and we 
may believe that, in her hands, Shakespeare's type of ironic 
genius suffered no further wrong than that of being arrayed 
in ' a shawl-like garment.' Mrs. Siddons and her husband had 
ceased to be the literal vagabonds of heretofore. They were 
engaged, for considerable periods, in stock companies of high 
respectability. 

In Liverpool commenced the lifelong friendliness that 
existed between Mrs. Siddons and a woman of almost equal 
force of character, Elizabeth Inchbald, then still an actress. 
In Manchester, whither the two ladies and their husbands 
moved for the winter season, John Kemble, aged nineteen, 
became a member of the company. Boaden, in his Memoirs of 

Mrs. Inchbald, tells us that, in March 1777, the five players, 

31 



32 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

with two congenial men added, took a blameless Wilhelm 
Meister holiday, in lodgings, on Russell Moor, near Appledur- 
combe. In the mornings, Mrs. Siddons washed and ironed 
for her husband and children, singing as she worked. In the 
afternoons, the whole party went on the moor, and played 
blindman's buff and puss in the corner. In the evenings, the 
grown-ups sat down to cards, and, sometimes, Mrs. Siddons and 
Kemble obliged with duets. 

A harsh, but clever, pastiche of Mrs. Siddons, at about this 
date, occurs in Lady Bell> by ' Sarah Tytler,' where the heroine 
discovers the actress seated in an inn kitchen, " and occupied, 
between the intervals of feeding the child, in supping heartily 
from a basin of bread and milk." 

In Manchester, Mrs. Siddons had not been far from the 
circuit presided over by the enterprising Tate Wilkinson. He 
beckoned, and the villeggiatura on Russell Moor broke up early 
in April to allow her to enter upon a short, but triumphant, 
visit to York, where she carried all before her, both in tragedy 
and comedy, put a Miss Glassington completely in the shade, 
and caused a Mrs. Hudson to quarrel with the Manager to the 
point of leaving him. Mrs. Siddons even succeeded in melting 
the prejudices of a certain Mr. Cornelius Swan, York's self- 
constituted dramatic arbiter, and a very exacting censor indeed. 

It is easy to write of any one who came in contact with 
that zestful anecdotist, Tate Wilkinson. Better (for biographical 
purposes) a month in the Ridings than a year with Younger, or 
any other less garrulous Manager. 

Wilkinson was all over notes of admiration. Never had any 
previous actress so rapidly subjugated his theatre in Blake 
Street. Mrs. Siddons was ' a lamp not to be extinguished/ a 
lamp kept going by ' unquenchable flame of soul.' He recorded 
that his patrons, one and all, expressed their ' astonishment, 
that such a face, judgment, etc., could have been neglected by 
the London audience, and by the first actor in the world.' Tate 
never missed an opportunity of getting his little pocket-knife 
into his old benefactor, Garrick tyrannos. He and his wife had 
the visiting actress's almost constant company at their house, 
and, across a pinch of 'his most excellent Irish snuff' (for 
Tragedy's divinest daughter loved ' snuffing ') Mrs. Siddons told 



MRS. SIDDONS OF THE BATH THEATRE 33 

him to his high satisfaction that she liked her 'country 
excursions, and the civilities she met with so well, and thought 
her treatment in London so cruel and unjust, she never wished 
to play there again.' 

According to provincial usage, the Management provided 
the theatrical dresses, and Tate, who vaunted himself in this 
department as ' the tippy,' tried to bribe Mrs. Siddons to return 
to York, after the recess, as a resident, by promises of silks and 
fine array exceeding anything Mr. Younger's wardrobe could 
offer. There was, in particular, a silver-trimmed 'full sack,' 
with a large hoop, provided for her Lady Alton (in The English 
Merchant, by George Colman the elder), for though she herself was 
shortly to become one of the earliest anti-hoop ladies, Tate, for 
his part, c was partial to ' whalebone on the stage, sharing Queen 
Charlotte's opinion that a hoop gave consequence. Over the 
confection with the foil trimmings Mrs. Siddons 'enthused.' 
She said, in her large-eyed, innocent way, that she wished she 
could convey it elsewhere with her ' it made her feel so happy.' 

At York, she opened with Murphy's Grecian Daughter, and, 
says Tate, " I had the honour of being her old father." He 
especially comments on her extraordinary elegance, and on the 
picturesqueness of her attitudes whenever she had to fall or die 
on the stage. Proportioned like the Milo Venus, she possessed 
the indispensable requisites of elegance, a short torso and long 
legs, longest from knee to ankle. She was still suffering from 
the shock of her London dismissal, and every one at York 
remarked how ill and pale she looked, and wondered how she 
could get through her parts. 

On May i/th, her month's engagement ended with the close 
of the York theatrical season, and she returned to Manchester. 
The next notice as to her movements comes from Mrs. 
Inchbald's journal, as follows : 

" I rose at three in the morning, and left Manchester in a 
post-chaise with Mrs. Siddons and her maid. The gentlemen 
rode in the stage-coach. They breakfasted at Macclesfield ; after 
which they proceeded on their journey to Birmingham; Mr. 
Inchbald on horseback Mr. Kemble was taken in to the chaise 
by the ladies ; till very late in life he was an indifferent 
horseman." 



34 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

At Birmingham, in their usual style, the Siddons and 
Inchbald groups lodged together. Sometimes, " Mr. Inchbald 
painted in the apartment of Mrs. Siddons whose exertion had 
given her a fit of illness," and, sometimes, Kemble read English 
history aloud, Mrs. Inchbald making ' notes of the important 
facts ' as he went on. 

During that bleak summer when the conclusive intelligence 
of failure in London reached her, Mrs. Siddons had some 
opportunities, in Birmingham, of playing leading business with 
the finest actor between Garrick and Kean, John Henderson, 
who, by his premature death, made room for Kemble at the top 
of the tree. Had Henderson not died at thirty-eight, Kemble, 
it may be, would only be remembered to-day as the scholarly, 
stagy brother of a histrionic genius. 

Henderson was that exceptional being, a thought-inspiring 
actor. Whether as Hamlet or Falstaff, he was equally masterly 
and subtle. Kemble described his Shylock as 'the greatest 
effort he ever witnessed on the stage,' and his lago must have 
been one of the profoundest pieces of acting ever seen, so 
completely did he exhibit, side by side with lago's villainy, 
lago's almost superhuman art of concealing villainy from its 
victims. 

It was Henderson, at the time 'the Bath Roscius' (which 
meant the Bath Garrick) of four golden seasons, who, discerning, 
in 1776, Mrs. Siddons's genius, wrote off to his Manager, John 
Palmer, the younger, of Bath, urging him to secure her. The 
outcome was an engagement, which included wife and husband, 
for the Orchard Street Theatre, the most distinguished theatre 
in England outside London. If anything could alleviate the 
former injuriousness of fortune, it was the fact of being engaged 
for the brilliant city in the West. 

There is a paucity of record as to how Mrs. Siddons 
employed the time between her benefit at York, May I7th, 
1777, and October 24th, 1778, when she commenced at Bath. 
Had she been unfeminine enough to preserve and docket her 
correspondence, as Garrick did his, information as to her where- 
abouts during this period, as well as a hundred other details, 
now missing, might enrich her biographers' pages. Garrick, 
by the way, went so far in methodicalness as to keep a list 



MRS. SIDDONS OF THE BATH THEATRE 35 

of all the people who had abused him. Mrs. Siddons, whose 
habit it was to think of her enemies as the enemies of the 
Lord, was less likely than her placable predecessor to need any 
written list to remember them by. 

During the summer of 1777, the future queen of the stage 
was, as playbills for June 27th September I5th prove, in 
Liverpool. For part, at least, of the rest of the time inter- 
vening between York and Bath, she was playing in Manchester. 
In June 1778, she, her brother, and her husband were again 
with Younger in Liverpool. Before the theatre there opened 
for this latter season, the Liverpool people issued a manifesto 
to the effect that it was no use for Younger to bring any 
company to Liverpool that had not played before the King. 
On the opening night, Mr. Siddons was sent on, before a 
vociferating and bottle-throwing audience, bearing a board, 
Marge enough to secure his person/ inscribed with Younger's 
petition to be heard. The lordly assembly would, however, 
hear nothing. Mrs. Siddons entered next P.S., and Mrs. 
Kniveton O.P. the former, for one, had fulfilled the required 
condition of having acted before George but nothing could 
avail. Mrs. Kniveton did what Mrs. Siddons would have 
scorned to do, i.e. fainted in front of the audience, at which 
the wretches only laughed. They next brushed every lamp 
out with their hats, jumped on the stage, took back their 
money, and left the theatre. Kemble describes the riot in a 
letter to Mrs. Inchbald at Leeds. 

The valuable patent of the Bath Theatre was, in 1777, 
held by as many-sided a man as the more famous earlier 
Bathonian, * humble ' Allen. Stirring, persevering John Palmer 
ran the Bath Theatre conjointly with the Bristol Theatre, 
and it was while moving his company (which he did three 
times a week) from Bath to Bristol, in the 'specials' he 
retained for the purpose, that the idea of mail-coaches for 
the postal service struck him. On August 2nd, 1784, the 
first English mail-coaches were driven between London and 
Bristol, under his auspices. In 1796, when Mayor of Bath, 
and five years before he first Represented Bath in Parliament, 
Palmer set on foot, and collected, a subscription of nearly a 
million sterling, to aid Pitt in carrying on England's naval war. 



36 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

The theatre which was to become Mrs. Siddons's first 
House of Fame had, when she reached it, been, for ten years, 
a Theatre Royal the first theatre in England, outside London, 
to obtain a patent. It had, quite recently, been enlarged 
and ventilated, at an outlay of 1000. It is true that Mrs. 
Siddons was, later, to speak of its bad construction as 
responsible for the fears she and her friends felt, in 1782, as 
to whether her voice would fill Drury Lane. 

Palmer had a quick eye for merit, and, once a year, made 
a tour round the principal country theatres, foraging for new 
talent, and observing what other Managers were doing. 
Diversely occupied as he was, he had to delegate actual 
managerial work upon a sub-Manager, who was ' Acting ' and 
'Stage' Manager in one. At Palmer's date, the prompter 
and the box-office keeper were more important functionaries 
than nowadays. Palmer's prompter, Floor, who saw Mrs. 
Siddons act in Liverpool, was in part by adding his recom- 
mendations to Henderson's instrumental in effecting her 
Bath engagement. 

The population of * Beautiful Bath/ including its visitors, 
was, in 1778, about thirty thousand. We need ask for no 
better image of Bath life than is given in The Rivals. Towards 
the end of October when Mrs. Siddons began to act the 
city was fast filling, for the winter season, with very genteel 
families. 'And more expected every day,' as Lady Miller, 
exactly a year later, wrote to Dr. Whalley, adding, 'Bath is 
become very pleasant, there is good music, good fires, good 
plays, cards, assemblies, etc.' By this time, King Nash had 
long ceased to rule Bath and hold the alms basin at the Abbey. 
He had done his work of abolishing coarse manners, duelling, 
white aprons, and top-boots, and, since his death in 1761, 
Bath had diligently taken in hand its own further refinement. 
There, of all places, was to be found ' a really box-audience/ 
the most judicious in the kingdom. Theatrically considered, 
Bath was a more select London. It was, also, the acknow- 
ledged antechamber to London. 

" Nature and Providence may have intended the place for 
a resource from distemper and disquiet. Man has made it a 
seat of racke and dissipation." So, at Prior Park, said 



MRS. SIDDONS OF THE BATH THEATRE 37 

Smollett, then meditating medical practice at Bath, and, 
indeed, the proportion of those who came for pleasure always 
exceeded the health-seekers. While the latter were steaming 
out their gout in the King's Bath, the former loitered in 
* toy '-shops, absorbed vermicelli soup at Gill's, the eminent 
cook's, and consulted the Bath Directory. The more elegant- 
minded looked in, every day, some at Leake's, some at 
Tennant's Library (those ' evergreen trees of diabolical know- 
ledge'), where they could converse, with congenial spirits, 
about pictures, taste, Shakespeare, and the winter's dramatic 
prospects. 

Mrs. Siddons's first appearance, on October 24th, was 
in comedy. She played Lady Townly. She was supported 
by Dimond, since Henderson's departure, the Bath premier^ 
Blisset, and Edwin. Of these three, John Edwin, who died of 
' taking too much refreshment ' la maladie du siecle at forty, 
is the only one whose name survives. Mrs. Siddons's second 
appearance was on October 27th, when she played Mrs. 
Candour, a part in which her ' significant looks ' were praised 
by Mrs. Thrale, who admitted her general inferiority in comedy, 
Other leading ladies being in possession, Palmer, at first, only 
asked Mrs. Siddons, as a general thing, to act on Thursdays, 
the Bath Cotillon nights, when * every thing that could move ' 
(as Boaden rather strongly puts it) went to the Lower 
Rooms. 

We want no surer indication of the attractiveness of Mrs. 
Siddons's acting than the fact that after she had been at work 
a few Thursdays long enough to be seen in tragedy the 
Dressed Balls began to thin, in favour of the theatre. Thomas 
Sheridan a past-master was one of the earliest enthusiasts, 
and she called him ' the father of my fortune and my fame.' 
Very shortly, she became 'this justly admired daughter of 
Melpomene,' and, next, ' this astonishing tragedian.' She was 
soon ' of the family of the sure-cards,' as Boaden says of Mrs. 
Inchbald as a playwright. She not only conquered the Cotillons, 
but, before a frivolous audience, brought tragedies into vogue. 
Gifted, beautiful, of unexceptionable manners and untarnished 
reputation, attended by a personable, sedate husband, and still 
in the May-morn of her youth, she was beset by invitations, 



38 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

troops of friends, and other flattering evidences of success. 
Compared with what she had received at Drury Lane, there 
was certainly a substantial drop from 5 to 3 a week in her 
salary. In a country theatre, even at Bath, $ a week would 
have been a ' star ' salary. Here, however, she had a promising 
benefit to look to, which, when it came, proved beneficial to the 
amount of 146. Added to her regular earnings, this sum 
sufficed to free her from what Scott designates 'the ignoble 
melancholy of pecuniary embarrassment.' Mrs. Siddons of the 
Bath Theatre could not afford a maid to paper her curls, but 
was able to keep a nurse-girl to help in looking after the 
children, whose number the arrival of a second little daughter 
(Maria), born in I779, 1 increased to three. 

Mrs. Siddons found the circumstances of her engagement 
arduous from the fact that Palmer required his company to 
double, not their parts, but their stage, with Bristol, whence 
they had to return to Bath at two in the morning. 

"After the rehearsal at Bath," she wrote in the autograph 
Memoranda she bequeathed to Campbell, " and on a Monday 
morning, I had to go and act at Bristol on the evening of the 
same day; and reaching Bath again, after a drive of twelve 
miles, I was obliged to represent some fatiguing part there on 
the Tuesday evening." 

From the artistic standpoint, the four years that now super- 
vened are deeply interesting, for, during this period, Mrs. 
Siddons was forming her art. These were her self-discovering 
years, when the gathered energies of her nature were pressing 
forward in one direction. Considerable success, according to 
its wont, only came after long study and labour. Its star, 
meanwhile, shone in her brain, and led her on. 

Bath may fairly claim Mrs. Siddons as, dramatically, its 
child. The glory to which she afterwards attained was largely 
due to the assiduous application, varied practice, and critical 
following for which the Orchard Street Theatre provided the 

1 Campbell (i. 82) gives July ist as the date of Maria's birth. The Registers of 
Bath Abbey, published (down to 1800) in the Harleian Society's Series, contain two 
Siddons baptisms, as follows : " 1779- Feb. 24. Maria d. of William and Sarah 
Siddons." "1781. Apr. 26. Frances Emilia d. of William and Sarah Siddons." 
The latter child we must suppose to have been the daughter whom biographers 
mention as having died very young. 




MRS. SIDDONS 

THIS SKETCH BY ROMNEY HUNG ON ONE WALL FOR NEARLY A HUNDRED YEARS 



MRS. SIDDONS OF THE BATH THEATRE 39 

opportunities. A local permanent company of trained actors, 
accustomed a s'emboiter, is the true nucleus of the much-talked- 
of national theatre. To Mrs. Siddons Bath was, what Henderson 
had found it, a c college/ 

The most valuable passage that occurs in the whole of the 
autograph Memoranda left with Campbell registers an incident, 
which, though historically belonging somewhat earlier, probably 
to the time of the Cheltenham engagement, may well appear 
here, as it evidences what artless preparations Mrs. Siddons, 
in the beginning, had thought adequate for playing the part 
that afterwards became her most towering intellectual triumph, 
Lady Macbeth : 

" It was my custom to study my characters at night, when 
all the domestic cares and business of the day were over. On 
the night preceding that in which I was to appear in this part 
for the first time, I shut myself up as usual, when all the family 
were retired, and commenced my study of Lady Macbeth. As 
the character is very short, I thought I should soon accomplish 
it. Being then only twenty years of age, I believed that little 
more was necessary than to get the words into my head, for 
the necessity of discrimination, and the development of character, 
at that time of my life, had scarcely entered into my imagina- 
tion. But to proceed. I went on with tolerable composure, in 
the silence of the night (a night I never can forget), till I came 
to the assassination scene, when the horrors of the scene rose to 
a degree that made it impossible for me to get farther. I 
snatched up my candle, and hurried out of the room in a 
paroxysm of terror. My dress was of silk, and the rustling of 
it, as I ascended the stairs to go to bed, seemed to my panic- 
struck fancy like the movement of a spectre pursuing me. At 
last I reached my chamber, where I found my husband fast 
asleep. I clapt my candlestick down upon the table, with- 
out the power of putting the candle out, and I threw myself 
on my bed, without daring to stay even to take off my 
clothes." 

A more characteristic picture was never painted first, the 
amazing confidence of the young actress in her power of 
memorising a great (though not a long) part within twenty- 
four hours, then her unconscious witness to her typically 



40 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

histrionic temperament in her record of the emotion of the part 
so rapidly and completely dominating her nerves and imagina- 
tion. Small wonder that out of such malleable stuff a match- 
less artist was shaped. The test of an artist is quick feeling in 
the hour of study. 

The words with which the passage concludes should not be 
omitted, since they reveal the Mrs. Siddons of, so to speak, 
private clothes that staid, businesslike, platitudinising, pike- 
staff matron who kept house with the spirit of fire and dew. 
Never was there another artist of foremost rank who showed 
fewer traces of what is commonly understood as art's unfailing 
accompaniment, The Artistic ' Temperament ' : 

" At peep of day I rose to resume my task ; but so little did 
I know of my part when I appeared in it at night, that my 
shame and confusion cured me of procrastinating my business 
for the remainder of my life." 

, Every record of a great player's methods is interesting, 
especially at first-hand. The above description of how Mrs. 
Siddons gave herself to Lady Macbeth's part is infinitely better 
worth having than her barren statement about the ' labour ' of 
acting at Bath and Bristol on alternate evenings. But nothing 
is so rare as to find an actor or actress writing instructively 
and to the point on the art of acting. It is the vice of players, 
when they compile their memoirs, to descant on their friends, 
their press notices, their tours, on anything and everything but 
the real thing. 

As we may believe from her own testimony, Mrs. Siddons's 
ease in committing parts to memory was prodigious. She 
possessed what Lord Rosebery has called the ' priceless gift of 
concentration.' A fortnight of rehearsals sufficed her, at all 
times, even for the biggest part. Far more than on rehearsals 
she relied on private study. She kept her brain fertilised by 
incessant consideration of her parts. She was one of the wise 
persons who know that the secret of good work is to ' plod on, 
and, still ' by dint of ever deepening, ever renewed study 
1 keep the passion fresh.' When preparing a part, in ' the quick 
forge and workinghouse of thought,' she never spoke her words 
aloud, leaving for the rehearsals that magic awakening of her 
already carefully meditated conceptions. She allowed, too, for 



MRS. SIDDONS OF THE BATH THEATRE 41 

the stimulus of theatrical surroundings, and, after her second 
debut in London, she used to tell the elder Sheridan, on whose 
criticisms she, in a measure, depended, that he must first go 
down with her to the theatre, ' where alone she could show him 
exactly what she could do at night.' 

One of the remarkable points about her acting in this, her 
early period, was that it was entirely self-derived and original. 
During her 1776 season, she had seen much of Mrs. Yates and 
Miss Younge's playing, and had had opportunities, on her off 
nights, to observe Mrs. Barry's methods at Covent Garden, but 
she seems never to have been influenced, in the slightest degree, 
for or against, by the way any other eminent actress had en- 
visaged any classic part, played any scene, or uttered any 
speech. She seems never to have known what it was to be 
temporarily swept off her feet, as to her own individuality, by 
the individuality of an older, maturer artist. 

And, however little, during the opening, the comedy, 
performances at Bath, her acting promised the strength and 
execution it was to display in 1782, it was invariably well 
imagined. In youth and age, on the spur of the moment or 
deliberately, Mrs. Siddons, whenever she spoke of her own 
practice of her art, spoke of it as solely indebted to her ob- 
servation of nature. Her earliest remark of the kind since it 
belongs to the Bath period, and occurs in a letter to her Bath 
friend, Dr. Whalley should be quoted in this context : 

" I hope [she writes] with a fervency unusual upon such 
occasions, that you will not be disappointed in your expecta- 
tions of me to-night ; but sorry am I to say I have often 
observed, that I have performed worst when I most ardently 
wished to do better than ever. Strange perverseness ! And 
this leads me to observe (as I believe I may have done before), 
that those who act mechanically are sure to be in some sort 
right, while we who trust to nature (if we do not happen to 
be in the humour, which, however, Heaven be praised, seldom 
happens) are dull as anything can be imagined, because we 
cannot feign." 

In one sense, all acting is feigning, but Mrs. Siddons meant 
that what was requisite to ensure her best was her sincere, albeit 
transient, identification of herself with her part the soul and 



42 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

essence of great acting which nervousness or mental pre- 
occupation inevitably impairs. 

Her first Bath season closed on June 1st, 1779, and, before 
it closed, it fell to her lot, on April 29th, to read, and on May 1st 
to recite, Sheridan's * Monody on Garrick.' 1 On September 27th, 
she commenced her second season with her, as yet, immature 
Lady Macbeth, and, during the subsequent winter, ' Master and 
Miss Siddons ' appeared on her benefit night as her (stage) 
children in James Thomson's Edward and Eleanora. The 
perfection of her intelligence in pathetic tragedy had by this 
time securely established her position at Bath. Every touching 
word came bettered from her mouth ; every sentiment of honour 
and virtue was made real by the exquisite sensibility of her 
utterance. Tom Davies, describing, in his Dramatic Miscellanies 
(iii. 148), what she was in 1782, notices that "her modulation 
of grief, in her plaintive pronunciation of the interjection, ' O ! ' is 
sweetly moving and reaches to the heart." It perhaps occurs 
to a latter-day person that to put so much into an ' O ' would 
certainly require art peculiarly capable of lifting banality out 
of recognition. For her part, Mrs. Siddons now said openly 
that she wished never to leave these sympathetic Bath audiences. 

It is to be noticed that William Siddons never took anything 
better than a minor r61e in pieces in which his wife was the 
heroine. When she was Jane Shore in Rowe's tragedy, he 
played Derby (a part of five lines) ; when she appeared, for one 
night only, as Hamlet (in Garrick and Lee's Shakespeare im- 
proved) he was Guildenstern. There is but little recorded 
observation as to how he supported the fourth-rate characters 
assigned him, but it is to be feared he was hardly worth his 
salary. He is stated to have been an exacting critic of other 
people's acting, and a good coach to his wife. He " was some- 
times very cross with her when she did not act to please him," 
deposed Mrs. Summers, who, at Bath, played confidante to 
Mrs. Siddons in the tragedies. The Rev. Henry Bate, it may 
be remembered, described Siddons to Garrick as 'a damned 
rascally player, though seemingly a very civil fellow,' but, on 

1 "I never yet was able to read that lovely Poem without weeping most 
plenteously" Mrs. Siddons to R. B. Sheridan. From an unpublished letter, in 
Mr. J. H. Leigh's collection, dated March 8th, 1814. 



MRS. SIDDONS OF THE BATH THEATRE 43 

better acquaintance, retracted the condemnatory portion of his 
criticism sufficiently to allow that Siddons's Young Marlow was 
' far from despicable.' Years later, Mrs. Siddons spoke to 
Whalley of her husband as a much better judge of the like- 
liness of a MS. tragedy than herself. 



IV 
THE BATH CIRCLE 

IN every watering-place, there are two distinct populations, 
the visitors and the residents, and it is a curious fact that, 
at Bath, as Mrs. Siddons knew it between 1778 and 1782, 
the greater number of remembered names we meet in association 
with hers belonged to the latter section. On the other hand, 
among ' the flux of quality ' was to be found the foremost of 
her admirers, in the shape of the most celebrated social queen 
of the late eighteenth century, Georgiana, Duchess of Devon- 
shire, Reynolds's mirthful Madonna. Wherever she went, the 
Duchess spread the actress's fame. Indeed, after Mrs. Siddons 
shone forth as the Tragic Muse of England, she liked to say that 
she owed her translation from Bath to London to advance 
advertisements on the part of the Duchess. As a matter of 
fact, Henderson's recommendatory representations to the 
Drury Lane Management had counted for a good deal 
more. 

That most likable personality, Thomas Gainsborough, had 
ceased to make Bath his residence about two years before 
Mrs. Siddons settled there. An alchemist in paint, he was 
a man who loved every form of art, and, on the art of acting, 
his remarks, in letters to his friend, Henderson, are extra- 
ordinarily penetrative. When he painted Mrs. Siddons, in 
what Macaulay called * the prime of her glorious beauty,' at the 
age of twenty-nine, in the blue, striped gown, brown muff, and 
black hat, she was, once more, a Londoner, and gave the 
master sittings at Schomberg House. Though he found her 
like the Duchess of Devonshire hard to paint, he, at all events, 
succeeded in making his chef tf&uvre of cool colour the finest 
normal, or untheatrical, portrait of an actress ever painted. 



44 






THE BATH CIRCLE 45 

" Two years before the death of Mrs. Siddons," writes Mrs. 
Jameson, " I remember seeing her when seated near this picture, 
and, looking from one to the other, it was like her still at the 
age of seventy." 

The painter whose 'emotive' life-story afterwards became 
so intimately interwoven with Mrs. Siddons's personal chronicle 
was brought to live at Bath during the latter half of her four 
years' residence there. In 1780, Thomas Lawrence was only 
eleven, though, from his confidence and self-possession, he 
might have been judged to be one-and-twenty. His father, who 
retired from keeping the Bear Inn at Devizes when he began 
to see money in his brilliant son, had once been an actor, and 
ever after remained so addicted to the theatre that he came over 
from Devizes once a week to pass an evening in the Bath green- 
room. Certain of the fact that young Tom possessed genius 
though uncertain as to its direction, Thomas Lawrence pere, 
at first, believed he saw in him the makings of an actor, and 
encouraged him to recite Shakespeare. Before long, the 
prodigy's even greater skill in drawing made him think 
differently, and, after two years on St. James's Parade, the 
family hired Mrs. Graham's late Mrs. Macaulay's Alfred 
House, Alfred Street, at 100 a year rent, took in a permanent 
' P. G.' (Cumberland's sister, a Mrs. Alcock), and profited from 
Tom's precocious ability. By the time the boy was twelve, he 
had many sitters, among them Mrs. Siddons, of whom, during 
her final Bath season, he, ' JE? 13 ', made the first of his many 
portraits a crayon sketch (later, engraved, and largely pur- 
chased) in her character of Euphrasia in The Grecian Daughter^ 
at the moment when she stabs the tyrant. Lawrence saw the 
play in the Bath Theatre, and, although Mrs. Siddons sat to 
him afterwards, the impassioned aspect of the original portrait 
is due to its boy-painter's strong original impression in the 
playhouse. 

It is disappointing that Mrs. Siddons's lodgings in Bath 
cannot be identified. Apparently, she and her husband were 
domiciled, during their last season, ' at Mr. Telling's, on Horse 
Street Parade.' l This, at all events, was the address given by 

1 In the opinion of Mr. Sydney Sydenham of Bath, this was I Garrard Street 
(now Somerset Street, Southgate Street). 



46 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

her husband to the applicants for tickets for her concluding 
benefit. 

It is pleasant to fancy Mrs. Siddons, sometimes what with 
rehearsals and the children, not very often carried in a chair 
to the Pump Room (her then fine health needed no waters), 
sometimes walking on her business about the Parades, looking, 
as she ever did, with her goddess-like way of moving, taller than 
she was, but in all places the cynosure of eyes, whether she was 
seen curtseying to that urbane scholar, old Mr. * Pliny ' Melmoth, 
or to Garrick's crony, Lord Camden, or passing the time of day 
with a handsome father of thirteen children, Christopher Anstey, 
of 5 Royal Crescent, also of Trumpington, Cambs, who, accord- 
ing to another famous lady, 1 never forgot he was the author of 
a celebrated poem, The New Bath Guide> and was, for ever 
after, * shily important ' (a discerning phrase !) in consequence. 
Mrs. Siddons would have had the sense and coolness to keep 
out of the way of that man of wrath, Philip Thicknesse, of 
St. Catherine's Hermitage, Gillray's ' Lieut-governor Gall- 
stone/ who was " perpetually imagining insult, and would sniff 
an injury from afar." She could more agreeably occupy herself 
in stopping to look at the classical ladies so like herself on 
the plaques and vases in Josiah Wedgwood's branch establishment 
in Westgate Buildings. 

Foremost among the folk unknown to general history of 
whom she saw most during her years at Bath, Thomas Sedgwick 
Whalley, D.D., should be named. Dr. Whalley's father had 
been Master of Peterhouse, and, when the son took orders, his 
father's old friend, the Bishop of Ely, presented him to a fat 
Lincolnshire living, with the typically eighteenth-century proviso 
that he was not to reside on it, as the fen air was fatal to any but 
natives. Whalley had no comfortless scruples, but settled down 
at his winter house in Royal Crescent, and his country place, 
first, Langford Court, near Bristol, and, afterwards, when that 
was let, Mendip Lodge, his ' Alpine habitation,' just above it. 
He continued to be an absentee rector for half a century. He 
was instruit and mundane, and society was necessary to his 
existence. He loved everything that was the reverse of obvious. 

This secular cleric and his and his wife's ' dearest friend 

1 Fanny Burney, 



THE BATH CIRCLE 47 

Mrs. Siddons' were on most effusive terms. In one of her 
letters, she told him that she never went to bed without praying 
for his and Mrs. Whalley's welfare, she wore their hair in a ring, 
she addressed him as * your glorious self/ ' my best, my noblest 
friend,' ' my most honoured.' These violent delights did not 
have violent ends, for when, late in the twenties of last century, 
her failing health forbade her writing, her daughter Cecilia 
continued her correspondence with Dr. Whalley, who, after all, 
predeceased her. When she was young, struggling, and at Bath, 
the Whalleys used to keep up her strength with beaten * Tent 
and egg' and offerings of grapes. In her palmy days, they 
presented her with ' beauteous and magnificent sables ' which 
she wore as a trimming on stage dresses. 

In all Bath, there was no one more exquisite, in his very 
cultured way, than Whalley. So susceptible to music that 
a good military band set him off crying in floods, he exchanged 
attenuated sentimentalities, wrapped in words of Latin origin, 
with Anna Seward. Fanny Burney, a clearer-sighted muse, 
made Philistine fun of his conversation, " about his ' feelings/ 
about amiable motives, and about the wind, which at the 
Crescent, he said, in a tone of dying horror, * blew in a manner 
really frightful.' " Mrs. Siddons was less awake to the absurd 
side of affectation. The portion of the brain which enables 
some persons to perceive incongruity was undeveloped in her 
organisation partly, because she was a tragic actress. 

Besides being a minor poet, Whalley was, it need scarcely 
be said, an art collector. Men of his stamp always are. It 
was for him that ' Barker of Bath ' painted The Woodman. 
Whalley, also, adored lap-dogs, and was painted by Reynolds 
with his spoilt and ' bullying ' Blenheim, the ' Sappho/ better 
known as ' Paphy/ or l Paphy Piddy/ to whose shell-pink ears 
and pretty tyrannies a letter of Mrs. Siddons's, dated August 2Oth, 
1782, rather oppressively refers. 

Whalley married three times, and, each time, went where 
money was. His first wife suffered a long while before her 
death from spinal curvature, caused by a carriage accident. 
The second Mrs. Whalley was a Wiltshire Heathcote. Al- 
though possessed of ' a fortune of fourscore thousand pounds in 
her own power/ she, being sixty, was enraptured at having the 



48 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

handkerchief thrown to her, and expressed to her friends her 
happiness in being united to a man 'whom she had always 
admired beyond any of her acquaintances, and who brought her 
a fortune equal to her own.' Within two years, the poor lady 
died from a cold. The widower's third dip into the lucky 
bag proved a failure. When nearly seventy, he espoused 
Lieutenant-General Charles Horneck's widow. Instead of the 
hoped-for fortune and good comradeship, she brought him 
debts and incompatibility. They 'separated by mutual dis- 
agreement,' and, while he lived in one house in Bath, she on 
a handsome settlement inhabited another, where she gave 
large parties. She was guilty of the further bad taste of 
surviving him. 

A topic, at first for laughter, and, later, for indignant 
censure, between the Whalleys and Siddonses was that 
hanger-on of the literary world, Samuel Jackson Pratt, 
who adopted the pseudonym of ' Courtney Melmoth,' and 
tried to climb upwards by addressing ingratiating letters to 
strangers of distinction. "That Mr. Pratt gains character 
and countenance at Bath, I wonder not on his part, but 
I wonder on the world's," wrote, to Whalley, the Dean 
of Bristol, Nineveh Layard's grandfather. Locally known as 
' Pratty/ the aspirant thus stigmatised had been in the Church, 
and on the stage, but, at the time he first swam into Mrs. 
Siddons's ken, was keeping the old-established library at the 
upper corner of Milsom Street. He was, in a hole-and-corner 
way, a favourite among the dowagers with whom Bath, then, 
as always, superabounded. "Pratt," said a caustic contem- 
porary, "was a delightful man to women whom others had 
disgusted, or injured, or neglected." 

Pratt had ample inclination to write, but very moderate 
talent. His tragedy, The Fair Circassian, which, produced at 
Drury Lane on November 27th, 1781, owed everything to 
Miss Farren, actually reached a nineteenth night. The gratified 
author followed it up by a comedy, The School for Vanity, in 
which, among other wild events, a baronet is saved from 
drowning by an alderman. This piece, in spite of Miss Farren's 
efforts, failed, and Pratt fell back on Delia Cruscan poems to 
establish his immortality. He was, moreover, the author of 



THE BATH CIRCLE 49 

the lines that disgrace Garrick's tomb in Westminster 
Abbey. 

For a time, he imposed on the Whalleys and Mrs. Siddons, 
also on the Swan of Lichfield, Anna Seward, who, when en- 
lightenment came, was, for a Canon's daughter, almost un- 
becomingly irate. From Mr. and Mrs. Siddons, in their halcyon 
period, Pratt borrowed a considerable amount of money, and, 
when Mrs. Siddons asked for a fraction of it back, and a still 
worse offence told him it was her rule to read no one's MS. 
tragedy, he turned vicious, threatened to write a poem on her, 
entitled Gratitude, and said, among many flagrant things, that 
he had been the ladder on which she had mounted to fame, and 
was now kicking down. "What he means," commented Mrs. 
Siddons, "I fancy he would be puzzled to explain." In 
addition to his other meannesses, he had paid clandestine 
addresses to Miss Kemble, afterwards Mrs. Twiss, under 
Mrs. Siddons's roof. 

Unremitting perseverance in study and practice, gradually, 
during the Bath years, brought Mrs. Siddons's art to perfection. 
From the start, as we learn from ' the reliable Genest,' she again 
had, occasionally, the educational advantage of acting with 
' Henderson from Drury Lane,' when he paid the original 
discoverers of ' Mr. Courtney ' a theatrical visit. On November 
1 7th, 1778, he played Hamlet, and she, the Queen on the ipth, 
she was Portia to his Shylock. He extolled her to young 
Sheridan, and she spoke of him, in her measured way, as * a fine 
actor, with no great personal advantages indeed, but the soul of 
intelligence.' As early as July I2th, 1780, as is attested by the 
postscript of a letter from Sheridan to Joseph Cradock, the 
Drury Lane Management was hoping to absorb Mrs. Siddons. 
The postscript runs, " I am at present endeavouring to engage 
Mrs. Siddons, of the Bath Theatre, which, if I effect, I will 
inform you." This letter is the sole evidence I have come upon 
that Sheridan contemplated the engagement of Mrs. Siddons 
two years before he brought it off. 

During the season of 1780-81, Mrs. Siddons introduced 

her sister Frances to the public, as an actress. By her 

own benefit that year ' Mr. Siddons ' (there was, then, no 

Married Women's Property Act!) realised 124. During 

4 



50 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

1781-82, came the definitive summons to London. "It may 
be imagined that this was to me a triumphant moment," said 
Mrs. Siddons. 

Bath audiences did not part from her willingly, and a news- 
paper paragraph appeared, stating that Mr. Palmer was 'in 
expectation of prevailing upon Mr. Sheridan to spare her a year 
or more to us.' With the profits she had brought him, Palmer, 
in 1781, made a good coachway up to his theatre, with a stand 
capable of accommodating over fifty equipages. Quite recently, 
no doubt by reason of her popularity, he had advanced the price 
of the boxes by a shilling. Yet he did not offer her in time the 
moderate rise that would Boaden states have retained her in 
a place where she was happy. One wonders whether Lord 
North's tax on theatres, then impending, had anything to do 
with his hesitancy. "What a pity this man did not sooner 
become sensible to Mrs. Siddons's value and his own interest!" 
wrote, in a letter of the end of March, a Bath lady, related to 
the Whalleys, Miss Penelope Sophia Weston, soon afterwards 
the wife of William Pennington, the American Loyalist, 
later, M.C. at 'the Bristol Hot Wells/ and Clifton's oddest 
inhabitant. 

This season, the prospering actress took two benefits at Bath, 
and a third at Bristol, 146, 145, i8s., and 106, 133. At all 
three, the pit was ' laid into ' boxes, and the front of the gallery 
partitioned off, for 'the gentlemen of the pit.' A book was, 
moreover, placed in the box-office, " for those ladies and gentle- 
men to subscribe, who should wish to pay a compliment . . . 
and might be absent from Bath at the time of the benefit." 
This brought in twenty additional guineas at the first benefit. 
On the playbills of the second and third, Mrs. Siddons announced 
that she would produce, at the end of the evening, three reasons 
for her leaving Bath. This sounded mysterious. The Distressed 
Mother, Ambrose Philips's version of Racine's Andromaque, was 
the play chosen. Dr. Whalley alone was in the secret. After 
the curtain rose for the epilogue, Mrs. Siddons led forward 
Harry, Sally, and Maria Siddons, the Three Reasons, and very 
lovely and like Reynolds's ' Charity ' in the New College window, 
she, no doubt, looked, with her beautiful children clinging to the 
long folds of her gown. 



THE BATH CIRCLE 51 

The idea of the Three Reasons was developed at length in a 
rhymed address, spoken and composed by this all-competent 
matron : 

"... These are the moles that heave me from your side, 
Where I was rooted where I could have dy'd." 

We may imagine how the theatre rang with applause, and 
how every paterfamilias present wiped his eyes. All through 
her career, Mrs. Siddons displayed an instinct for personal, and 
not merely stage, publicity. 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 

r I ^HE year that shuddered at the disappearance of \heRoyal 

George off ' the Fair Island/ in a waveless summer sea, 

was the year that witnessed the long-deferred emergence 

of England's greatest actress. In 1782, she was 'turned of 

twenty-seven. 

Early in 1783, Dr. Russell, historian of Europe, published, 
under his initials, W. R., a poem concerning her, entitled The 
Tragic Muse, in which he stated that 

"This bright Jewel from the Mine to bring, 
Delightful task ! was left for generous King," 

but the assertion was only a figure of speech. It was not till 
the season that saw Mrs. Siddons's Restoration that Sheridan 
consigned Drury Lane's actual management to King, and then 
he did so without giving that incomparable speaker of prologues 
an iota of authority to engage players, or accept plays. Moved 
by his father, by Henderson, and by Georgiana, Duchess of 
Devonshire, it was Sheridan himself who had effected the 
engagement of Mrs. Siddons. 

In D. L. playbills for September 2Oth and 2ist, is to 
be found, among ' notes/ at the foot, " Mrs. Siddons (From the 
Theatre Royal, Bath) will shortly make her appearance at this 
Theatre in a capital Character in Tragedy." On the playbill for 
September 28th, and again for October 7th, the part she was 
to play was specified. 

On Thursday, October loth, 1782, she reappeared and 
sealed her triumph. Her probative part was Isabella, in 
Garrick's version of the tragedy of that name Thomas Southerne 
wrote, in 1694. 

Perhaps none but actors can realise the tremors and earnest 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 53 

prayers which were the prelude to October loth. She was in 
for her final, before the great examining board of London 
playgoers, and there was much to intimidate, yet more to 
stimulate, her in the thought. There was the stinging remem- 
brance that, six years before, she had failed to satisfy these, or 
similar, examiners, but, this time, she knew that her genius would 
not be veiled and hampered by immaturity. Nothing was left 
of that trembling Portia who was judged to be ' uncertain where- 
abouts to fix either her eyes or her feet.' 

At the rehearsals she had only two she created the right 
sensation. At the first, she says, " The countenances, no less 
than tears and flattering encouragements of my companions, 
emboldened me more and more ; " at the second, " Mr. King 
was loud in his applauses." Her eight-year-old son, Harry, 
rehearsing the part of Isabella's child with her, unconsciously 
helped forward the preliminary thrill, by breaking into sobs, 
as he watched the dying scene, because he thought that, this 
time, his mother was not acting, but really suffering, and really 
about to leave him. 1 

When, on October 8th, Mrs. Siddons reached home after 
her second rehearsal, she was seized, to her consternation, 
with nervous hoarseness. Her own words, again from her 
fragments ol autobiography, have more than once been 
reprinted, but no paraphrase could represent the experience 
of her next forty-eight hours with anything approaching 
their tensity. 

" I went to bed in a state of dreadful suspense. Awaking 
the next morning, however, though out of restless, unrefreshing 
sleep, I found, upon speaking to my husband, that my voice 
was very much clearer. This, of course, was a great comfort 
to me; and moreover, the sun, which had been completely 
obscured for many days, shone brightly through my curtains. 
I hailed it, though tearfully, yet thankfully, as a happy omen ; 
and even now I am not ashamed of this (as it may, perhaps, 
be called) childish superstition. On the morning of the loth 
my voice was, most happily, perfectly restored ; and again 
' the blessed sun shone brightly on me! " 

Tom Welsh, the singing-master, father-in-law of Piatti, 

1 The Morning Post, October loth, 1782. 



54 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

told John Payne Collier, in 1832, at the Garrick Club, that 
he had had it from Mrs. Siddons's own lips that she so 
completely overslept herself, after her previous fatigue, and a 
sleepless, anxious night, that, far from starting in time for a 
final rehearsal fixed for 10 a.m., she lay on, unconscious her 
family having decided not to wake her till one o'clock. 

Her autobiographical Memoranda take up the story : 

" On this eventful day my father arrived to comfort me, 
and to be a witness of my trial. He accompanied me to my 
dressing-room at the theatre. There he left me; and I, in 
one of what I call my desperate tranquillities, which usually 
impress me under terrific circumstances, there completed my 
dress, to the astonishment of my attendants, without uttering 
one word, though often sighing most profoundly." 

Though she told Lawrence that, up to her highest maturity, 
she was shaken with nervousness before going on in a great 
part, yet, true to her self-contained, reasonable nature, even the 
nervousness common to all actors and actresses took, with her, 
the form of * desperate tranquillities/ But, with her, nervous- 
ness was done with as soon as the curtain rose. At that 
moment, impersonation what Salvini called transmigration 
took place, and, by a derivative, equally instantaneous, process, 
the audience turned into the proverbial rows of cabbages. 

"At length [continues her narrative of October loth] 
I was called to my fiery trial. The awful consciousness that 
one is the sole object of attention to that immense space, 
lined, as it were, with human intellect from top to bottom 
and all around, may, perhaps, be imagined, but can never be 
described, and can never be forgotten." 

Reading Isabella ; or The Fatal Marriage now, and comparing 
it with other pieces in Mrs. Siddons's early repertory, one 
cannot but rejoice that it actually is, like the child's drama 
described by a schoolfellow, ' a little in the style of Shakespeare/ 
A simplicity, as of an age more golden than its own, resides 
in some of the lines spoken by the heroine. The story is that 
of a passionately devoted wife, who, believing herself a widow, 
under stress of poverty remarries, for her child's sake, and finds 
next day that her first husband is living. The situation caused 
by his entrance is followed, on her part, by ' phrenzy's wild 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 55 

distracted glare' and a dagger used, with a laugh, against 
herself. 

Mrs. Siddons would have chosen the more ornate part 
of Euphrasia, in The Grecian Daughter, but ' Mr. Sheridan, 
senior/ knew that her strength lay in pathos, and persuaded 
her into undertaking the character that would give her most 
opportunity. 

It is disconcerting to learn that, in obedience to our great- 
grandfathers' crude views as to value for money, immediately 
after sympathising with the anguish of Isabella, people were 
supposed to be equally ready to participate in the humours 
of the farce, which was William Whitehead's A Trip to Scotland. 
In this direction, a change was at hand. By 1784, only two 
years after Mrs. Siddons's uprisal, Tom Davies entered in his 
Dramatic Miscellanies ', " The farces, which used to raise mirth 
in an audience after a tragedy, now fail of that effect from 
Mrs. Siddons's having so absolutely depressed the spirits of the 
audience." 

The new actress scored a magnificent success in Isabella 
acting it eight times in the first three weeks, and sixteen times 
more between November and the June of 1783. It evei 
remained her favourite non-Shakespearean part with audiences. 
It was one of those she most fully realised, for, with a few 
exceptions, the characters in which she excelled were characters 
in which the motherly side of feminine emotion predominated. 
To her, the part of Juliet was not simpatica. Similarly, as 
Boaden acutely observes, her Jane Shore was convincing as 
to everything save as to the fact that Jane Shore had been 
an adulteress. 1 Her air of command, alone, visually banished 
the notion of frailty, and in her own nature she had nothing 
of the grande amoureuse. 

The effect the restored debutante produced on her audience 
was prodigious, and full-handed thunder greeted this apparition 
of sensibility and power. To ancient Macklin, seated in the 
front boxes, a mild gentleman remarked, " I think the new 
actress promises well." " I think she performs well," snarled 
the veteran. With every act, enthusiasm grew greater. At the 

1 A similar remark was made, later, by Fanny Kemble concerning Mrs. Siddons's 
Mrs. Haller. 



56 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

close of the tragedy, as Boaden quaintly puts it (and we must 
suppose he was recording an observed fact), " literally the greater 
part of the spectators were too ill to use their hands in her 
applause." When she got home, everything had to be recounted 
to Mr. Siddons, who had been too agitated to venture to Drury 
Lane. 

Her account of how she finished this victorious evening is 
a gem of narrative. All that was finest and most endearing in 
her character breathes through its simple sentences : 

" I reached my own quiet fireside, on retiring from the scene 
of reiterated shouts and plaudits. I was half dead ; and my 
joy and thankfulness were of too solemn and overpowering a 
nature to admit of words, or even tears. My father, my 
husband, and myself sat down to a frugal neat supper in a 
silence uninterrupted except by exclamations of gladness from 
Mr. Siddons. My father enjoyed his refreshments, but occasion- 
ally stopped short, and, laying down his knife and fork, lifting 
up his venerable face, and throwing back his silver hair, gave 
way to tears of happiness. We soon parted for the night ; and 
I, worn out with continually broken rest and laborious exertion, 
after an hour's retrospection, (who can conceive the intenseness 
of that reverie?) 1 fell into a sweet and profound sleep, which 
lasted to the middle of the next day. I rose alert in mind and 
body." 

Out of the circle of Bath well-wishers Mrs. Siddons chose 
Whalley to whom to unbosom her joy at the ringing success of 
her great assault. " I never in my life heard such peals of 
applause," she wrote to him, next day. " I thought they would 
not have suffered Mr. Packer to end the play." 

In conversation, late in her life, with C. R. Leslie's friend, 
Newton, Mrs. Siddons said, emphatically, "/ was an honest 
actress^ and at all times in all things endeavoured to do my best." 
She, in part, owed her capacity for sustained hard work to her 
fine physique. Hard work and plenty of stimulus were the 
regime that best suited her. At Bath, when she was the mother 
of young children, she would study till three in the morning, 
after getting back from Bristol at midnight. Without literally 
accepting Sir Joshua Reynolds's dictum that those determined 

1 Query. Was this reflection Mrs. Siddons's, or Campbell's interpolation ? 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 57 

to excel must know no hours of dissipation for a proportion 
of every theatrical renomme'e is due to the judicious cultivation 
of patrons during hours of so-called dissipation she consistently 
put work before family, society, and leisure. Except that 
Macready locked himself into his theatre, and practised there 
on Sundays, ' after morning service,' a proceeding Mrs. Siddons 
would have deprecated, not even Macready, laborious though 
he was, outdid her in application. " She certainly did not 
spare herself. Neither the great nor the vulgar can say that 
Mrs. Siddons is not in downright earnest? remarks Davies, in 
his Dramatic Miscellanies. 

It was happy for her that she was blessed with a tenacious 
verbal memory, for the quickly changing bills of her time 
demanded powerful memory efforts. Henderson might well 
write, as he did, in 1773, to his Bath employer, Palmer, "Let 
me assure you, upon the credit of experience, that to keep over 
fifty characters of great magnitude, importance and variety, 
distinct and strong upon the mind and memory, is no trifling 
business." No member of the Kemble family was ever known 
to appeal to the prompter. 

Mrs. Siddons's genius for impersonation was so potent that, 
had she been, as Jules Janin found Rachel, 'petite, assez laide ; 
une poitrine ^troite^ fair vulgaire et la parole trivialel she would 
still have hypnotised audiences into believing that she looked 
whatever each heroine was supposed to be looking. But, for 
her further advantage, her physical equipment was so con- 
summate that no victory of mind over matter was needed. She 
was not much above the middle height, but, like many other 
beautiful women, seemed taller than she was. In frame, some- 
what large of bone, her grandeur of mien and the amplitude of 
her gestures added to the impression, inseparable from one's 
image of her, of a'goddess-like tallness. Mrs. Piozzi said that the 
Earl of Errol, in his robes at George Ill's coronation, and Mrs. 
Siddons, as Murphy's Euphrasia, were the noblest specimens of 
the human race she ever saw. 

Mrs. Siddons naturally found it more stimulating to play 
in a large theatre, after the comparatively narrow Orchard 
Street stage. She was the actress of all others fitted to a wide 
proscenium. At later dates, it was remarked that on a small 






58 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

provincial stage, her manner, winning its triumphs by broad 
effects, her grandiose demeanour, and her sweeping movements 
made her seem out of the picture. George Bartley, who played 
Edward IV to her Margaret of Anjou, in 'I he Earl of Warwick, 
described her, to Campbell, as looking a 'giantess/ when she 
entered, at the back of the stage, through an ' extensive arch- 
way/ which she ' really seemed to fill.' 

Her beauty was of a type that wore well. When she was a 
girl, a friend of her father's deplored two facts in her appear- 
ance that she was too thin, and that she was all eyes. To the 
first defect she lived to look back with wistful remembrance ; 
the second, also, ceased, as the contour of her face grew fuller 
and rounder. To Whalley, she wrote of herself, after the 
advent, at the end of 1785, of her younger son, George, as not 
having been 'in face these last four months/ and Charles 
Kemble told William Bodham Donne, the Examiner of Plays, 
that, ' like all the Kembles/ she became ' very emaciated, not to 
say scraggy/ while babies were following one another in quick 
succession. 

If the glory of her person will live for ever in the two 
celebrated portraits, painted during the same year, the enskyed 
Reynolds, and the superb, impassive Gainsborough (which I 
once heard a visitor to the National Gallery designate ' Mrs. 
Siddons as the Duchess of Devonshire '), the soft loveliness of 
her face and bust is more realisable from two frost-fine chalk 
drawings by Lawrence, one lithographed by Lane, the other 
engraved by Nicholls, which have, comparatively recently, been 
reproduced in Mr. Knapp's An Artist's Love Story. From these 
intimate portraits by the man over whom the Kemble type 
exercised nothing less than a spell, we see how much her 
beauty consisted in the setting of her full-orbed eyes, the up- 
ward curl of her dark and silky lashes, the shape of her chin 
and forehead, the modelling of her deep bosom and nobly 
muscular shoulder for hers was a robust, not a fragile, 
charm. 

She possessed ' the Kemble Eye ' in its highest perfection. 
Samuel Russell, an old actor, told Curling that those only who 
were on the stage with her, playing their parts, could have any 
idea of the power of her eye. " It made the person on whom it 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 59 

was levelled, almost blink and drop their own eyes." All 
observers concur that, when she was acting, her eyes could be 
seen to sparkle or glare at an incredible distance. " The effect 
of her eyes," wrote the Rev. E. Mangin (author of Piozziana), 
" was greatly assisted by a power she had of moving her eye- 
brows, and the muscles of her forehead," and Genest says that, 
at certain movements, on the stage, she had a look with her 
eyes hardly possible to describe " she seemed in a manner to 
turn them in her head." These wonderful eyes were usually 
described as black " of the deepest black," said James Beattie, 
but the great portrait-painters knew better. To them, they were 
sepia-brown ; in repose, like heavy velvet. 

Her face was ' seldom tinged with any colour, even in the 
whirlwind of passion/ remarks John Wilson, and we gather 
from the comment that she used little rouge when acting. As 
regards her nose, Walpole did not find either it or her chin 
according to the Greek standard, " beyond which both advance 
a good deal," and every one remembers Gainsborough's baffled 
ejaculation, as he threw down his brush, " Damn it, Madam, 
there is no end to your nose ! " In every portrait alike, we 
find 'the nose/ straight, and, for Aphrodite, a thought too 
long, but betokening artistic capacity and decision of character. 
It was the nose that made her profile what the Morning 
Chronicle of October nth, 1782, termed it, 'grand, elegant and 
striking.' We need only glance at the generalised portraits of 
John Kemble which Lawrence exhibited, under 'character' names, 
to know any one of them by Kemble's eagle beak. The Nose 
ran if the expression may be permitted through the family. 

A study of many portraits of Mrs. Siddons brings one to the 
conclusion that her face, able and ready for expression, was not 
too expressive in repose. It was plastic the player's ideal face. 

On her multitudinous portraits a volume might be written. 
Besides the great Gainsborough, 1 the great Reynolds, and the 
favourite Lawrence, all reproduced in this volume, there is the 
Warwick Castle full-length (in the Catalogue of the Guelph 
Exhibition, 1891, ascribed to Reynolds) with the dagger and mask, 
and Lord Llangattock's portrait of her, attributed to Gains- 

1 Sold to the National Gallery, in 1862, by Major Mair, husband of the sitter's 
granddaughter. 



60 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

borough, in Cavalier costume, while, in a 'Catalogue of Lawrence's 
Exhibited and Engraved Works/ appended to Lord Ronald 
Gower's Sir Thomas Lawrence, Mr. Algernon Graves names no 
fewer than fourteen several portraits of her. In 1783, Romney 
made the sketch 1 that faces p. 38, the finished replica of which 
the Morning Chronicle, May 8th, 1786, called his "incomparable 
head of Mrs. Siddons, which Raphael would be glad of, pene- 
trated by something superior even to Taste ! " 

After the work of the dii majores, the half-length by 
J. Downman, A.R.A., in the beribboned cap and scalloped 
fichu, stands, perhaps, first. It is well known from P. W. 
Tomkins's engraving, reproductions of which were included in 
the Magazine of Art, 1887 (' Some Portraits of Sarah Siddons ' ) ; 
in the reprint, 1896, of Boaden; in The Two Duchesses, 1898 
mistakenly, there, as Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire ; and in 
Lord Howard de Walden's edition of The Reminiscences of Henry 
Angelo, 1904. On the back of the painting is inscribed, in 
Downman's handwriting, these words, kindly communicated 
to me by the present owner : " Mrs. Siddons. 1787. Original, 
the great tragic Actress. I drew this for the Duke of 
Richmond, but he preferred the Duplicate. Off the Stage I 
thought her face more inclined to the comic." Comparison of 
this portrait with the Romney sketch induces conviction that 
both were faithful likenesses. Sir William Beechey's interesting 
figure, seated, in white, with white turban, painted about 1798, 
an ever-attractive subject with copyists in the National Portrait 
Gallery, comes next among private life portraits. 

However positive we may feel that Mrs. Siddons was a 
1 trumpet set for Shakespeare's lips to blow,' the overwhelming 
majority of her stage portraits depict her at the sensational 
moments of non-Shakespearean drama. Harlow not only painted 
the famous Katharine portrait, but made a pencil drawing of 
her, dated 'December 1813,' as Lady Macbeth (only a few 
reproductions of which were printed), but, besides this latter, 
there is no record that can be called artistic of her highest 
dramatic achievement. 

Among five portraits (five, at least) of Mrs. Siddons, 

1 Sold, in 1906, at Christie's, 'the property of a gentleman,' for 2500 
guineas. 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 61 

by William Hamilton, of the four in character, as Isabella, 
Euphrasia, Jane Shore, and Lady Randolph, the first, a large 
canvas now in Lord Hotham's collection, is the most note- 
worthy. Even in Caldwall's print, it fascinates the woman- 
hood is so heroic, the affliction so gorgeous and this in 
spite of Genest's criticism that " as she is simply standing with 
the child in her hand," no "particular idea of her manner" is 
conveyed. A propos, the following story is told of one of 
Mrs. Siddons's sittings, in 1782, to the Scotch Academician, at 
63 Dean Street. Hamilton and his wife, accompanying her, on 
leaving, to the door, commented to her on her resemblance to 
a sculptured Ariadne on the staircase. She clasped her hands 
in ecstasy. "Yes, it is very" she began, and was adding 
" like," when a wave of modesty turned the word into " beautiful 
so very beautiful, I fear you must be flattering me." With 
this, she sat on the stairs, gazing at the marble, and repeating, 
" so beautiful, you must be flattering me." 

In addition to the early Lawrence Euphrasia, and Hamilton's, 
J. K. Sherwin (engraving as well as painting) and H. Repton 
portrayed her in that character. Stothard drew her as Calista, 
Shireff painted her both alone and with Kemble. In the Garrick 
Club hangs an ultra-theatric full-length by Westall, the gift of 
Sir Squire Bancroft. The Guelph Exhibition included, among 
many portraits, miniatures by Cosway, Horace Hone, R.A., 
Samuel Shelley, G. Chinnery, R.H.A., and William Hamilton, 
and a water-colour of her with her brothers by Sir W. T. Newton. 
Romney introduced her, as ' Tragedy/ among the red shadows 
of The Infant Shakspere instructed by the Passions, now at 
Stratford : in another genre work, Lawrence's Satan, she 
appears, at Satan's feet. W. Mansell had her as ' Queen Rant ' 
in ' The Caricaturers Stock in Trade 1786' ; Gillray's ' bludgeon- 
pencil ' dealt with her in ' Blowing up the Pic Nic's,' and other 
prints; Rowlandson expressed his notion of her, 'being in- 
structed by her father/ Where she toured, there she sat to 
some one, and, for wealthy admirers, like Mrs. Fitzhugh and 
Lord Hardwicke, she sat to their favoured painters. It would 
be hard to find a contemporary artist who never depicted Mrs. 
Siddons. Lady Templetown cut her in paper, as Jane Shore, for 
publication. Flaxman, designing chessmen, made the queens 



62 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

from her. Mr. Fitzgerald speaks of an Irish collection of water- 
colour drawings, by Miss Sackville Hamilton, of her poses and 
costumes. 

Where painters led, engravers followed. Bartolozzi, J. R. 
Smith, Clint, Heath, Sherwin, Say, Caroline Watson, and a tribe 
of others disseminated over Great Britain presentments of Mrs. 
Siddons, c antique-limbed and stern,' with the face of a Fate on 
a gem. ' Minstrel ' Beattie, being a Scot, thought her the most 
beautiful woman of her time 'excepting the Duchess of Gordon/ 
but Stothard thought excepting Mrs. Fitzherbert. Stothard 
said that commanding as Mrs. Siddons always was, in her 
youth, as he found when painting her, the exceeding delicacy 
of her beauty seemed far greater off the stage. On some one 
observing that she would be the finest possible subject, not 
for a picture, but a statue, and that a bust was not enough to 
'convey a full idea of her surpassing majesty,' he cordially 
assented, and mentioned the remark to Flaxman. 

A notice of portraits should not omit mention of memorial 
statues. Of Thomas Campbell's colossal figure (1846) sub- 
stituted for his intended mural alto-relievo, now in the National 
Portrait Gallery in Westminster Abbey, we read only too 
much in Macready's Reminiscences. On Macready the trouble 
and expense of its erection was allowed, by a distinguished and 
aristocratic committee, almost entirely to fall. L. Chavalliaud's 
statue (1897) on Paddington Green, minikin in scale Mrs. 
Siddons seen through the wrong end of an opera -glass 
has the distinction of being the only open-air statue of an 
actress in England. 

When we think of Mrs. Siddons's impressiveness, sureness, 
strength, and fire, we dwell on characteristics other first-rate 
women-actors have abundantly possessed, but the quality all 
her own, the essence of her stage personality, was her innate 
majesty, and, here, no other actress, however otherwise gifted, 
has yet been her peer. "... were a wild Indian to ask me, What 
was like a queen ? I would have bade him look at Mrs. Siddons " 
Tate Wilkinson's statement is convincing. 

Mrs. Siddons, in her Memoranda, gives this ingenuous ex- 
planation of her composure when she was first introduced at 
Buckingham House: 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 63 

" I afterwards learnt from one of the ladies who was present 
at the time that her Majesty had expressed herself surprised 
to find me so collected in so new a position, and that I had 
conducted myself as if I had been used to a court. At any 
rate, I had frequently personated queens." 

As befitted a queen of tears, melancholy tenderness was, by all 
accounts, the normal characteristic of Mrs. Siddons's voice, and her 
prevailing stage expression was sad. A Rector of St. Stephen's, 
Wallbrook, thus describes the impression she made on him : 

"... I never saw so mournful a countenance combined 
with so much beauty. Her voice, though grand, was melancholy 
her air, though superb, was melancholy ; her very smile was 
melancholy." 1 

Contemporary notices of how Mrs. Siddons dressed her 
parts are few, partly, no doubt, because Tragedy takes less 
thought for clothes than Comedy. Abington's fertile genius for 
costume would have only belittled a Siddons. A probability 
emerges that audiences were not certain what 'the Tragic 
Music ' had on, beyond being convinced that she was 

* clad in the usual weeds 
Of high habitual state,' 

as Joanna Baillie has it, in De Montfort, describing the heroine 
(Mrs. Siddons). We know that the effect of Lady Macbeth's 
sleep-walking dress was that of a soft, muffling whiteness, and 
that it was designed by Sir Joshua. In the first two acts of 
Macbeth^ Mrs. Siddons appeared in a costume copied from a 
bridal suit of Mary, Queen of Scots, so, if the history was 
anachronistic, the geography was unimpeachable. Seeing that 
the antiquarian Kemble dressed all Shakespeare's historical 
plays (as a step towards realism) in Charles I costumes, it was 
he, most probably, who suggested to his sister the Mary Stuart 
dress. Mrs. Siddons, by the way, was the first heroine who 
dissociated madness from white satin. 

It was upon her first appearance as Belvidera at Drury Lane 
that Boaden made the following antediluvian comment : " There 
was no Venetian costume affected, for in modern times it is not 

1 Mars ton; or the Soldier and Statesman. By the Rev. George Croly, LL.D., 
i. 50, 51. 1846. 



64 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

worth the inquiry for stage purposes how the different parts of 
Europe dressed." In our days of an exact knowledge of reality,' 
every one may have his laugh at Macbeth in a tie wig, and the 
Grecian daughter in hoops. Should we not, rather, bring our 
archaeological minds to bear on the wider aesthetic considerations 
urged by Deschamps in that best poem on a picture ever 
written before Rossetti's sonnets, a poem that may be roughly 
Englished thus : 

When Veronese limned each sunburnt guest 
At Cana's feast, he made no curious quest 
In Galilee if silver threads or gold 
Ran through the festal robe's embroidered fold, 
Nor how were shaped those instruments divine 
Which sang when God turned water into wine. 
Yet the Venetian with his virile hand 
Made living men of that musician band, 
And, though for this or that the critics blame, 
For me, I love the picture : 'tis the same 
Whether they carry hautboy, viol, or lyre, 
Their hands are flesh. I am silent. I admire. 

George III, in his paternal way, warned Mrs. Siddons against 
using white paint on her neck, as dangerous to health. When 
Reynolds and Gainsborough painted her in 1784, she was still 
under the dominion of what Elizabeth Inchbald uncompromis- 
ingly called ' the larded meal.' The effect of the mounted head 
was to make the face very small. At the same time, the natural 
shape of the head was lost, winged out, as it was, by * certain 
side-boxes of curls.' It described, instead, an equilateral triangle 
of which the base was uppermost. The head-building process, 
from the first papillotes to the last puff of the powder machine, 
must have been painfully tedious, and busy Mrs. Siddons gained 
many hours a week when, in November 1795, she broke through 
the tyranny of powder, and, like her strong-minded friend, 
Mrs. Inchbald, who was among the first innovators, tried the 
effect 1 of natural hair on the stage. 

In words only surpassed by Boaden's statement that 
Henderson's Othello " agonised himself and everybody fortunate 

1 Campbell states that, during her second season (1783-84), Mrs. Siddons went 
unpowdered, and with hair already la grecque, and that Reynolds, thereupon, 
' rapturously praised the round apple form which she had given to her head.' Judging 
from portraits, Campbell antedated this speech. Reynolds did not die till 1792. 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 65 

enough to hear him," the Morning Chronicle, describing Mrs. 
Siddons's first triumphal night in London, observed she " wore 
her sorrows with so much persuasive sincerity " that she " wrung 
the heart, and gratified the judgment." Such criticisms may 
well bring us up anew against the naif wonder as to why people 
should consider it a pastime to look on at the re-presentation of 
' sorrows and agonies/ 

In view of the tears and screams, fainting-fits and convulsions, 
that Mrs. Siddons's acting called forth, one must conclude that 
the pleasure of seeing her act was a pleasure that was all but 
pain. Miss Williams Wynn attests this, where, describing the 
effect Mrs. Siddons's acting had upon her, she calls it a " thrill 
which more exactly answers the idea vi pleasing pain than any- 
thing I ever felt, and I can hardly attach any other meaning to 
the words." Henry Angelo records, in his * Reminiscences/ 
how, one night, when he, with his family, was in Mrs. Lacy's 
box to see Mrs. Siddons play Isabella, a young lady, who had 
been at the rehearsal in the morning, " determined to be before- 
hand to have a good cry, and not all our laughing and persuasion 
could prevent her shedding tears. The idea of what she must 
expect from her affecting acting, was enough to produce weeping." 
Genest states that the excruciating pathos of Mrs. Siddons's 
Cleone, performed on November 22nd, 1786, so affected 'the 
Ladies ' that, on the 24th, the evening announced for a repetition 
of Dodsley's 'slaughter-house' tragedy, the boxes were half 
deserted. The play, consequently, was, thenceforth, laid aside, 
whereby " some admirers, who on the supposition that she would 
play the character frequently, had not hurried about seeing her, 
were greatly disappointed." 

It was, clearly, Mrs. Siddons who brought in the fashion for v 
the house to shriek whenever the heroine shrieked. The faint- 
ing ladies and the ostentatious pocket-handkerchiefs also dated 
from Mrs. Siddons's first season. These hysterical follies 
'caught on/ and, very soon, people were 'swooning' on the 
slightest theatrical provocation. It would be interesting to 
know in which decade the fainting fashion declined. Fanny 
Kemble, in her day, mentions having twice seen people seized 
with epilepsy at the funeral procession in Romeo and Juliet. 
Such physical paroxysms produced in, and willingly accepted 
5 




66 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

by, audiences as part of the enjoyment, form an extraordinary 
phenomenon in the history of theatres. Regarding the reality 
of these violent responses of the nervous system to violent 
stimulus, there can, in many instances, be no question, and it 
was not only in the case of innocent members of the public, 
Gautier's 'public essentiellement serieux qui croit a ce quil voit' 
that they were made, as witness the anecdote of Holman and 
Macready's father, both hardened actors, sitting in the Drury 
Lane pit while Mrs. Siddons played in The Grecian Daughter. 
Any one who reads The Grecian Daughter to-day will scarce 
forbear to yawn, yet, after the death-scene, Holman turned to 
his companion, and said, " Macready, do I look as pale as you ? " 
Hazlitt, when summarising Mrs. Siddons's artistic career, 
recorded, " We have, many years ago, wept outright during the 
whole time of her playing Isabella." Crabb Robinson was 
another cool enough hand who yet became so hysterical when, 
in 1797, Mrs. Siddons was playing Agnes, in Lillo's Fatal 
Curiosity, that, he tells us, he was all but turned out, in the idea 
that he was laughing by intention. 

To be so excited, playgoers must be anything but ' barren 
spectators/ and there can be little doubt that the audiences 
of those days were keener than modern audiences. They 
produced better critics of acting, for Hazlitt, Lamb, and Leigh 
Hunt left no successors equally acute and analytic concerning 
the acting, in contradistinction to the play. 1 The whole house 
was interested in ' readings ' and ' business.' Thanks to short 
runs, and to the consequent frequent repetition of Shakespearean 
and other masterpieces, every head in the auditorium could well 
be, in Mr. Max Beerbohm's phrase, a heavy casket of 
reminiscence. 

As regarded the adequacy of the voice, found wanting by 
Mrs. Siddons's critics of 1775-76, she and her friends had, before 
the crucial October loth, many qualms, and, indeed, during her 
first brilliant winter, though none could censure her articulation, 
for she took care of every consonant, as her mother had taught 
her, a few adverse opinions lingered. In all probability, before 
she found the pitch of the house, sheer anxiety made her strain 

1 Per contra, it must be remembered that Leigh Hunt's and Hazlitt's ' Theatrical 
Examiners ' had not to go to press two hours after the fall of the curtain. 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 67 

her voice, since the Morning Post said that, in her purple 
patches, she raised it harshly and inharmoniously. 

Her propriety of utterance and correct emphasis were the 
points specially commended by the King, which, at the end of 
her opening season, procured her, by Queen Charlotte's express 
command, the post of Reading Preceptress to the Princesses 
* a position/ wrote Campbell in the draft of his Life of Mrs. 
Siddons '*\\ HONOUR, but no SALARY, and, therefore, 
I believe, little in request.' 1 Certainly, Mrs. Siddons's appoint- 
ment was honorary, but the Queen, on one occasion, gave her 
' a magnificent gold chain, with a cross of many-coloured jewels/ 
Mrs. Siddons called it her ' badge of honour/ and, on another, 
presented her with a nomination to the Charterhouse for her 
elder son. The actress always had the honour of driving 
to and from Buckingham House in a royal carriage. 

We learn more of Mrs. Siddons's non-theatrical history, 
during 1782-83, from the letters to Whalley, preserved in his 
' Memoirs/ than from any other source. ' Pratty ' or Benignus, 
as the Bath set sometimes called Pratt met with a considerable 
share of comment. He began well, by writing Mrs. Siddons an 
epilogue, which was, later, vastly applauded, though, on the first 
night, it had to be dropped out of the programme, on account of 
her ' excessive fatigue of mind and body ' and by this fact 
alone we may judge how she had gathered up all her force for 
one supreme encounter. Her letter, unfortunately as far as 
Pratt was concerned, went on, " Never, never, let me forget his 
goodness to me." What ' Benignus ' must have considered a 
golden opportunity for repaying his goodness arrived only too 
soon, but Mrs. Siddons did no more than profess herself sadly 
grieved over the fact that, after the predestinate failure of 
Thomas Hull, the actor's, anonymously produced prose tragedy, 
The Fatal Interview, the Management " would not let her " risk 
her reputation in Pratt's comedy, The School for Vanity. 

Though Walpole heard that ' the Siddons ' was declining 
great dinners on the plea of her perpetual business and family 
responsibilities, already the world was making its claims felt. 

1 I came upon this comment in turning over the MS. rough copy of the Life oj 
Mrs. Siddons, sold at Sotheby's, in 1906, for ^21. In his published work, the dis- 
creet poet refined it away. 



68 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

" I have thought myself very unfortunate," she writes to Whalley, 
"in being unable to see her [Whalley 's niece] so often as 
I wished ; but the constant succession of business, and the 
nonsensical though necessary round of etiquette, visiting, etc., 
etc., leaves one in London very, very little to use for one's real 
gratification." 

In her prosperity and elation, she never lost sight of the quiet 
ideals of her private character. Without a shade of insincerity, 
she writes, " I am still gathering laurels to place round the sweet 
cottage you and I have planned together, and you will be glad 
to hear they are variegated with gold ; but as I am not ambitious 
of finery, I shall be glad at a proper time ... to exchange them 
for more modest plants." Another day, she exclaims, " Oh, for 
a piece of Langford brown bread ! " Mrs Siddons was never 
indifferent to food. She was an excellent ' fork.' 

The 1782-83 letters to Whalley are dated from lodgings at 
149 Strand. A central and tolerably respectable address was 
essential to her receiving visits from people of any figure in the 
world. At the theatre, the first run of Isabella was not over 
before she was advanced from her original dressing-room, up a 
long staircase, to the dressing-room that had been Garrick's. 

Her salary commenced at ten guineas a week. Two years 
later, it was raised to 24, los. Undoubtedly, during the first 
season, her pay was below her value, but she looked to her 
benefit, on December I4th, and that, made free, as it was, of all 
charges, brought her over ;8oo. Belvidera, in Venice Preserved, 
was the part she chose for her first benefit, and when, in March 
1783, a second was allowed her, she appeared before her patrons 
as Zara, in Congreve's The Mourning Bride, and realised ^650 
by the performance. As early as November 1782, a hundred 
barristers, whom she described as ' the whole body of the Law/ 
made her up a purse of a hundred guineas, which the Hon. 
Thomas Erskine presented, and she called the episode 'the 
most shining circumstance of her whole life/ as, formerly, she 
had said of a subscription raised for her in Bath, ' Was it not 
elegant?' On December 1 7th, she issued, from the theatre, a 
manifesto of gratitude, stating how she had been ' told that the 
splendid appearance on the night [of her benefit] and the 
emoluments arising from it, exceed anything ever recorded on 



CONQUEST OF LONDON 69 

a similar account in the annals of the English stage/ She 
ended by protesting as felicitously as such a thing could be 
protested that she ' will carefully guard against any approach 
of pride.' To do her justice, she never, at any time, treated the 
public in a high-handed way. 

During her first season, which concluded on June 5th, she 
acted eighty times, during her second, fifty-three times. The 
first year she essayed seven characters, in the following order : 

Isabella (Southerne's Isabella ; or The Fatal Marriage, 1694). 

Euphrasia (Murphy's Grecian Daughter ', 1772). 

Jane Shore (Rowe's Jane Shore, 1713). 

Louisa Montague (Hull's Fatal Interview, 1782). 

Calista (Rowe's Fair Penitent, 1 703). 

Belvidera (Otway's Venice Preserved, 1682). 

Zara (Congreve's Mourning Bride, 1697). 

In her Memoranda of 1782-83, occurs one specially under- 
standable remark. Speaking of the overwhelming success, first, 
of Isabella, then, of her next character, she writes, " I well 
remember my fears and ready tears on each subsequent effort, 
lest I should fall from my high exaltation." 

Time is the trier of talent, and each new character Mrs. 
Siddons impersonated more positively proved her Promethean 
spark to be no penny firework. The glowing, graceful creature, 
with her marvellously arresting manner and her terrible 
concentration, recalling Mrs. Gibber in her pathos, rivalling 
Garrick in all but his universality, " has," wrote Davies, " like a 
resistless torrent . . borne down all before her." 



VI 
THE WAY OF HER GENIUS 

INCERITY is the pulse of fine acting, and Mrs. 
Siddons, one of the sincerest of feminine personal- 
ities, possessed the quality at the heart of her genius. 
Anna Seward found -that, she simply played as a woman of 
fine understanding and feeling heart would actually look and 
speak, in the given circumstances^Jand we may search long 
through the superabundant correspondence of that pedantic 
lady for another criticism as discerning and terse. 

Mrs. Siddons played from nature, and her own conception, 
for, of-ooMsse, her apprehension of ' nature ' was determined and 
modified by temperament. Tkat ishe considered, seriously and 
attentively, each line she uttered, v tier manuscript Memoranda 
on Lady Macbeth, included in Campbell's 'Life' of her, afford 
collateral assurance. Sir -Walter Scott tells us that, ^hen 
dispraising her brother John's determinedly classic postures, 
she showed, by practical exposition, that the braced attitude 
induced by concentrated feeling can be, no matter how un- 
beautiful, more expressive than the most elaborately graceful 
pose plastique. She stood erect, pressed her knees closely against 
each other, curved her feet inwards, held her elbows to her 
sides, placed her hands upright together, and, in this attitude, 
that of the Egyptian statues Lord Lansdowne had shown her 
at Lansdowne House, she pronounced Lear's curse. The 
heightened effect from the narrow, contracted body and the 
rigidity of the muscles made Scott's ' hair rise and flesh creep/ 
It is interesting to find the English actress whose name we 
intimately associatemith the classic, static, stately style giving 
a lesson in realism a entrance. ' We are reminded of Mme 



THE WAY OF HER GENIUS 71 

de StaeTs kindred comment, in Corinne, on the way Mrs. 
Siddons played the scene in Isabella, where she kneels to Count 
Baldwin : 

" Uactrice la plus noble dans ses manieres, madame Siddons, 
ne perd rien de sa dignite quand elle se prosterne contre terre. II 
riy a rien qui ne puisse etre admirable, quand une Emotion intime 

entrained 
Acting consists of two main ingredients, imitation and 
artistic identification. A mere mimic catches manner and 
mannerism, a true actor gives the mind with the manner. This 
power of temporary identification was pre-eminently Mrs. 
Siddons's. She worked from within outward ; first, by yielding 
herself to the spontaneous flashes of her sensibility, she became 
the person represented ; then, inevitably, brought out the 
external indications, peculiar and personal.34 
L- Other actors marvelled _at- the well-controlled, self-reserving 
' identification ' they must have deeply envied. Charles Mayne 
Young, who acted with Mrs. Siddons, gave, in a word, the 
explanation of it. "She was," he said, "the most lofty-minded 
actress I ever beheld. . . .i-From the first moment to the last, she 
was, according to theatric parlance, ' in the character.' 'p Various 
actors are so variously constituted that, while Mrs. Siddons 
took deliberate pains to maintain, through the intervals between 
the scenes, the frame of mind proper to the play, Edmund 
Kean could come out of tragedy, and straightway turn a 
somersault into the greenroom, and Rachel could parody the 
thrilling scene she had that moment quitted. . It was not in 
' the Great Woman,' as Campbell calls his heroine, to ' frivol,' 
or coolly calculate, in the thick of tragedy. . One could not 
imagine Garrick's whisper, " Tom, it will do I see it in their 
eyes," from her. The soul of the artist in Mrs. Siddons was 
a deep lake, in Garrick it was a broad, transparent stream. 
At the same time,,j|t was only while she was in the part 
that she submerged her private self, and then, in Boaden's 
quaint words, "no recognisance of the most noble of her 
friends exchanged the character for the individual." Once 
the fifth act was at an eni she, too, returned to herself, like 
the rational being she was^and Cumberland, in conversation 
with Rogers, drew a memory-picture of her coming off the 



72 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

stage in the flush of triumph, and walking to the mirror in the 
greenroom to survey her still agitated face. 
\^ Whether speaking or silent, Mrs. Siddons acted, intensely, 
every moment of the time she was before the audience r .-x Crabb 
Robinson describes her, as Margaret of Anjou, when she has 
stabbed Warwick. "She . . . staggered off the stage as if drunk 
with delight . . . every limb showed the tumult of passion." She 
was never afraid to evince physical vigour. Genest noticed 
that whereas less stalwart actresses, in Milwood (Lillo's George 
Barnweir), let themselves be disarmed, almost without a struggle, 
she rushed past Trueman, and made her way up to Thorowgood, 
before Trueman could hold her back. 

It is clear that her technique came easily to her. Her 
genius had not, like Irving's, to chip a laborious way through 
a sheath of personal inaptitudes. 

Her special magic lay in bits of dumb show, neither set 
down in the text nor in marginal directions. In the Trial, in 
King Henry the Eighth, the way in which, as Queen Katharine, 
she waved aside Cardinal Campeius, and more directly addressed 
herself to Cardinal Wolsey, made the most memorable moment 
of the scene. ... Similarly, Leigh Hunt noted as the best thing 
in The Grecian Daughter a something out of it which occurred 
when the heroine had obtained for her imprisoned father un- 
expected assistance from the guard, Philotas. "Transported 
with gratitude, but having nothing from the poet to give 
expression to her feelings, she starts with extended arms and 
casts herself in mute prostration at his feet." For action so 
impulsive no one could imagine any rehearsal, and we read of 
a feeling akin to consternation, on the part of the audience, 
that such marvellous power in the expression of emotion should 
be only acting. 

The words of a dramatist do not supply an actor with much 
more than half of what he expresses. He has to add to the 
words colour, light and shade, life. Some people jeer at the 
proposition that the actor creates. He no more creates a 
character, say they, than a pianist creates Beethoven's Moonlight 
Sonata. These people are, in a shallow sense, right. In a 
profounder sense, they are quite wrong. To their contention 
Fleeming Jenkin made the best possible reply, when he wrote : 



THE WAY OF HER GENIUS 73 

" Let any reader who thinks that there is some one Hamlet, 
Shakespeare's Hamlet, who could only speak the speech in one 
attitude, with one set of tones open the book, and in the 
solitude of his chamber try first to find out the emotions which 
Shakespeare meant his Hamlet to feel, and then try to express 
those emotions in tones which would indicate them to others. 
If honest and clever, he will find out after half an hour's study 
how little the author has done for the actor, how much the 
actor is called upon to do for the author." l 

From a copy of Macbeth annotated with MS. marginalia, 
I find Professor George Joseph Bell going still farther. " Mrs. 
Siddons," he wrote, "is not before an audience. Her mind 
wrought up in high conception of her part her eyes never 
wandering never for a moment idle passion and sentiment 
continually betraying themselves. Her words are the accom- 
paniments of her thoughts, scarcely necessary you would 
imagine to the expression, but highly raising it and giving the 
full force of poetical effect." 

C Mrs. Siddons played without insisting overmuch upon her 
own role. In any episode of strong action (like the duel between 
Lothario and Altamont, in Rowe's Fair Penitent) where she 
was not immediately concerned, she would efface herself. Her 
capacity to evolve for every character its characteristic manners 
totally preserved her work from that melancholy accompani- 
ment of all but the best-imagined acting, inappropriate business. 
Nor was she ever known to be trivial, or too detailed, in 
conditions that demanded exaltation, and oblivion of small 
surroundings. "3 

" No trap, no lure for mean applause is laid ; 
No start, no languish to the Pit is paid," 

wrote one of the many tributary poeticules, and to the extra- 
ordinary single-mindedness of her acting those best qualified to 
judge, viz. her fellow-actors, bore witness. Charles Young 
sounded this noble characteristic when he said, "She never 
indulged in imagination at the expense of truth." The word, 
truth, seemed spontaneously to leap up whenever adequate 
observers described her art. It fulfilled Plato's immortal 
definition of beauty as the splendour of truth. 

1 Papers, Literary, Scientific, etc., by Fleeming Jenkin, i. 46. 1887. 



74 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Lady Charlotte Bury was told, in conversation, of how 
John Brown, the painter, had asked Mrs. Siddons whether she 
thought it necessary, in order to produce an effect on the 
audience, that a part should be acted above the truth of nature. 
Her reply as it filtered through three reporters was as follows : 
" No, Sir, but undoubtedly up to nature in her highest colours ; 
otherwise, except we performed to audiences composed of such 
persons as I have now the honour to be conversing with, the 
effect would not be bold enough in the boxes, nor even in the 
pit. But to you, Sir, who are a painter, a judge of paintings, I 
need not explain myself more particularly on this point." 

Because her own personality was simple, Mrs. Siddons was 
able to give to each of her impersonations an extraordinary 
unity of design, and this we may take to have been the root 
quality of every new triumph she made. The parts of the 
character were subordinated to the whole, and every action and 
gesture was related to one single mainspring of feeling. This 
did not make for a variegated style, but it led, most emphatic- 
ally, to intense and convincing effects. 

We find a score of testimonies to a point which, after all, 
counts for less than an unversed spectator might imagine, viz. 
the copious tears shed by her. Shakespeare was too familiar 
with the histrionic temperament to set much store by the fact 
that the stroller in Hamlet wept, and turned pale, for Hecuba. 
Tom Davies mentions that, in the critical act of The Fair 
Penitent, Mrs. Siddons's increasing pallor was seen through her 
rouge. Once, at least, in her fictive agitation, as Arpasia, in 
Rowe's Tamerlane, she fainted in earnest, which caused * a rush 
from the pit and boxes to enquire for her.' Miss Kelly, in the 
dramatic 'Recollections' she gave, in 1833, at the Strand 
Theatre, told how when Mrs. Siddons, as Constance, used to 
weep over her (as Arthur) her collar was always wet with tear.s. 
Mrs. Siddons was struck by her own facility for crying being 
greater on some nights than on others. This appears from a 
letter written by her, and first printed in Payne Collier's An Old 
Marts Diary : 

" i Nw, 1805 

" To speak sincerely, and as it were to myself, making my 
own confession, I never played more to my own satisfaction 



THE WAY OF HER GENIUS 75 

than last night in Belvidera: if I may so say, it was hardly 
acting, it seemed to me, and I believe to the audience, almost 
reality ; and I can assure you that in one of my scenes with my 
brother John, who was the Jaffier of the night (a part of which 
he is not very fond), the real tears ' coursed one another down 
my innocent nose' so abundantly that my handkerchief was 
quite wet with them when I got off the stage. ... I never was 
more applauded in Belvidera certainly ; though, of course, as a 
piece of mere acting, it is not at all equal to my * Lady ' [Macbeth]. 
Belvidera, I assure you again, was hardly acting last night : I 
felt every word as if I were the real person, and not the 
representative." 

As is the way with great actors, Mrs. Siddons, in almost 
every part, gave special vitality to some one line, which stamped 
it for ever, while, for the playgoer, all surrounding recollections 
might have faded. Frederick Reynolds speaks of three separate 
lines she made thrillingly impressive 

in Venice Preserved, 

"Was it a miserable day?" 

in The Mourning Bride, 

"No not the Princess' self," 

and, in King Henry the Eighth, the widely famed 

" Lord cardinal, *-\ 
To you I speak." 

Mrs. Trench, the mother of the Archbishop of Dublin, 
enthusiastically recorded the magical manner in which, in a 
play whose title, plot, and characters were all forgotten, the 
great actress said, to a servant who had betrayed her, 

"There's gold for thee ; but see my face no more." 

Some of these instances give an idea of the power Mrs. 
Siddons must have possessed of vivifying what was in itself life- 
less. The power of a true inflection of voice is incalculable, and 
(as those blessed with oral memory best remember) all the 
picturesque detail in the world does not move an audience like 
one sentence, or one cry, given with the right intonation, ^^oo 
r~ Another convincing proof of her grip over the house is the 
witness we find to her, power of preventing the emergence of 



;6 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

any chance ludicrous impression in tragedy. Of a scene in 
Congreve's Zara, for instance, Tom Davies writes : 

" The expressions of anger and resentment, in the captive 
queen, seldom fail to excite laughter. Mrs. Porter, who was 
deservedly admired in Zara, and Mrs. Pritchard, her successor 
in that part, could not, with all their skill, prevent the risibility 
of the audience in this interview. Mrs. Siddons alone pre- 
serves the dignity and truth of character, unmixed with any 
incitement to mirth, from the countenance, expression, or 
action." 

We read that Clairon, when she advanced to the footlights, 
could, by the blaze of her eyes, make the (then standing) pit 
recoil several feet, but, certainly, no other English actress can 
ever have had such a genius for sheer looking as Sarah Siddons. 
The movements of her eyes anticipated her words, and made a 
dramatic pause more speaking than the sentence that followed 
it. No one ever knew better than she how to interpret the 
silences of Shakespeare. *"-* - 

Her artistic pauses of suspense and for the isolation of 
weighty words were not identical with the more utilitarian pauses 
she partly made, partly was given by the enthusiastic house, at 
the end of crescendo efforts. Six years after she left Bath, she 
asked Whalley, who had spent the greater part of the inter- 
vening time on the Continent, whether he thought her acting 
had improved in the interval. He replied in the affirmative, 
but added (greatly daring) that he regretted to observe she 
had acquired a stage trick of pausing after certain sentences, 
to receive the expected applause. In London, throughout the 
long sequence of years during which she was the idol of fashion, 
she used definitely to rely upon these interruptions, for rest and 
restoration. " Acting Isabella, for instance," said she, " out 
of London, is double fatigue ; there the loud and long applause 
at the great points and striking situations invigorated the 
system, and the time it occupied recruited the health and 
nerve." 

In spite of Lady Macbeth, one cannot help imagining 
that, in wicked characters, Mrs. Siddons must have suffered 
(in the stage sense) from her own personality. It is hard to 
believe that she was ever as criminal as Mme Bernhardt is 




'MRS. SIDDONS. TRAGIC ACTRESS. PAINTER UNKNOWN 



THE WAY OF HER GENIUS 77 

in Phedre. In Lady Macbeth, it is noteworthy that she 
made 

" Had he not resembled 
My father as he slept I had done 't," 

by the exquisite feeling she put into it, one of the great 
points in the drama. 

It is clear that the simplicity of Mrs. Siddons was different, 
in kind, from that of the Garrick school. The question that 
remains for the student of the historical stage is whether, to a 
modern audience, her effects would not have appeared effects 
of harsh, melodramatic brilliancy and gigantic, over-emphasised 
shadow though, after all that has been cited, the suspicion of 
any unnaturalness seems a treason. We know that, in theatrical 
appreciation, fashions change. As to the staginess of John 
Kemble, condemned even by his contemporaries, there can 
be no question. We know, moreover, that the family ideal 
was classic, and a reaction from the flexible impressionism 
of Garrick and his followers. In her Record of a Girlhood^ 
Mrs. Kemble states what the family ideal was 

"... A noble ideal beauty was what we were taught to 
consider the proper object and result of all art. In their 
especial vocation this tendency caused my family to be 
accused of formalism and artificial pedantry ; and the so- 
called ' classical ' school of acting, to which they belonged, 
has frequently since their time been unfavourably compared 
with what, by way of contrast, has been termed the realistic 
or natural style of art." 

In Mrs. Siddons's own day there was a minority who 
dissented from the general laudations of her naturalness. One 
who belonged to this minority was Abraham Hayward's ' Lady 
of Quality,' Miss Wynn. She wrote : 

" Mrs. Siddons in her prime is certainly a bright recollection, 
but I did not feel for her acting quite the enthusiasm that 
most people profess. It was too artificial for my taste: her 
attitudes were fine and graceful, but they always seemed to 
me the result of study." 

Such criticisms as this must be taken into consideration. 
On the other hand, we may remember Mrs. Clive's ringing 
verdict that her acting was ' all truth and daylight/ a judgment 



78 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

particularly weighty, as proceeding from a woman of strong 
understanding, who had herself been a princess among the 
impressionists. We have to separate the ranting contemporary 
tragedies in which Mrs. Siddons played from herself and her 
method of playing them. We may also bear in mind that the 
too familiar anecdotes of her stilted phraseology in everyday 
life are not proofs of her having been stagy in the theatre. 

The balance of probability inclines one to think that the 
greatness of her imagination irradiated a conception and 
method which, in the hands of a player endowed merely with 
talent, would have lacked power to represent the variety and 
play of life. We might, perhaps, venture so far as to think 
that, great tragic actress as Mrs. Siddons was, she might have 
been, in her tragedy, still greater if, in her personality, she had 
possessed a few grains more of humour and of comedy. Stage 
tragedy which rarely admits even irony to temper it is, of 
necessity, perilously far removed from the natural world over 
which God's good sun shines. But here, again, genius such as 
Mrs. Siddons's, like nature itself, harmonises contradictions, 
and makes whatever it does seem right. While her audiences 
gazed at her, they felt greatness, as, in our day, we felt great- 
ness in Henry Irving. 

Fire is the quality that distinguishes the great from the 
merely good player, and it was this in Mrs. Siddons which 
raised her acting far above Kemble's. With her, however 
elaborate her previous study, it was always, in the result, pains- 
concealing, thanks to her unfailing capacity for momentary 
fire. Hers was not the kind of nature that wastes its nervous 
force over afterthoughts and uncertainties. . We have too little 
record as to how she accepted suggestions from authoritative 
outsiders. We know that when Sheridan, her Manager, tried 
to make her alter her action of setting down the candlestick 
in the sleep-walking scene, she was obdurate. We are left to 
believe that she principally relied on herself in matters that 
belonged to her own scope. 

It is well worth noticing that her art bore two fruitages. 
The first was the expression of what Boaden terms ' gentle 
domestic woe,' the second was the expression of earth-shaking 
Shakespearean characters, Constance and Lady Macbeth, 



THE WAY OF HER GENIUS 79 

mellowing, more and more, as her physique altered, into Queen 
Katharine and Volumnia^ j We have it from Horace Walpole 
that when, during her earlier period, she was asked to play 
Lady Macbeth and Glover's Medea, she replied, ' No, she did 
not look on them as female characters.' 

The Ettrick Shepherd, in apology for the defective plots 
of his stories, represented himself saying to Scott, " Dear 
Mr. Scott, a man canna do the thing that he canna do." In 
the case of a woman it is much the same. The misfortune is 
that, by some malice of their lutins, both men and women 
appear impelled to do, for their own gratification, not the thing 
they can, but the thing they ' canna.' And thus Mrs. Siddons 
too long remained unpersuaded as to her inferiority in comedy. 
No outsider was influential enough to limit her Rosalind and 
Lady Restless to theatres outside London, as Rachel's advisers 
limited her Celimene to theatres outside Paris. 

Mrs. Siddons's was an age of genuinely comic actresses. 
The names of Abington, Farren, and Jordan recall a trio of 
comedy queens, variously gifted. To many persons, including 
the present writer, perfect comedy acting appears a higher and 
maturer thing than the finest tragedy. Tragedy acting is 
emotional, whereas comedy must be intellectual. But the 
actor has never lived who was equally great in both. Garrick, 
in all probability, was at his best when he did not go deep 
below the surface. His expression in Garrick between Tragedy 
and Comedy leaves no doubt as to what so keen an observer as 
Reynolds deemed his stronger gift. 

Mrs. Siddons's comedy always appeared forced. It was a 
conscious unbending, as though Thalia were Melpomene's 
schoolgirl sister. The idea of Mrs. Siddons acting, as she did, 
Mrs. Riot in a trivial burlesque like Garrick's Lethe is unseemly, 
and even shocking. " Who," said a gentleman, speaking of 
this to Lady Charlotte Campbell, " would have wished to see 
Sir Isaac Newton auditing the accounts of the mint? or who 
would enter into the enjoyments of a catch or a glee sung by 
Lord Chief Justice Mansfield ; or a solo on the German flute 
by the King of Prussia ; or a fandango danced by the Empress 
of Russia ? " 

It must be easier to act tragedy than comedy. Macbeth 



8o THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

almost acts itself, and it was Macready's pet remark that no 
actor ever failed as Hamlet ; but to act Lady Teazle, or Mrs. 
Millamant, delicate judgment, vivacity, and breeding are re- 
quired. Mrs. Siddons had not the sprightliness, or natural 
gaiety of disposition, that is indispensable for success in comedy, 
nor did she possess the great comedy ' gift of pace '. on which 
Miss Ellen Terry, in her Autobiography, laid so much stress. 

Had she been a good comedian she would have made a 
more competent woman of society, where all expression is 
high comedy. She lacked the necessary versatility. At drums, 
she was apt to remain heavily silent. Witness Campbell's 
account of her, at a reception in Paris, in 1814, standing, for 
some noticeable length of time, mumchance beside the Duke of 
Wellington, ' after a first mutual recognizance.' She was grave 
by nature. Her temperament was a tragedy temperament, 
her face a tragedy face. 

We read that she could, 'in her slow way,' tell laughable 
stories laughably, or, even (having first ' ordered the parlour-door 
to be made fast '), give the speeches of Sir Anthony Absolute so 
as to convulse a family party ; and that she was not without 
a limited, unrejoicing sense of humour is further demonstrated 
by passages in her correspondence, as, for instance, the long 
description she gives of the woman who, in August 1782, rode 
in the stage coach with her, from Bath to Weymouth, of which 
this sentence is a sample : " Her neck, which was a thin scrag 
of a quarter of a yard long, and the colour of a walnut, she 
wore uncovered for the solace of all beholders." To this we 
may candidly prefer Campbell's assurance that Mrs. Siddons 
was not too vain or solemn to join in the general laugh on 
herself when, in a dismal tragedy, having to make an ardent 
exit with a baby in her arms, she set a precedent for Tilly 
Slowboy by knocking the baby's wooden head and with a 
resounding thud against the doorpost. 



VII 
SOME EARLY PARTS 

ANY ONE who has inherited that whitish elephant, an 
eighteenth century library, must have been struck by 
the extent to which its play-books outnumber its novels. 
In Mrs. Siddons's day, every play that ran nine nights appeared, 
shortly afterwards, in book form. " The crowd at a manager's 
door electrically acts upon a publisher's," wrote an anxious 
and successful dramatist, Mrs. Inchbald. An unacted tragedy 
was never bought. Evidently, there was no demand for a 
drama for mental performance only, though Byron thought 
there was room for something of the kind, and Scott wrote, in 
a letter to Allan Cunningham, "We certainly do not always 
read with the greatest pleasure those plays which act best." 

A century and one or two decades ago, at Drury Lane or 
Covent Garden, an author received 33, 6s. 8d. for the first 
nine nights of his play, with the further agreement that, if the 
play failed to bring 200 a night, the proprietors were at liberty 
to withdraw it. ' Acting rights ' were, as yet, inchoate and ill- 
defined. 

If, throughout Mrs. Siddons's life, she had acted in none but 
Shakespeare's plays, it would be possible to write of her inter- 
pretation of women, her delivery of lines, her ' business ' in 
scenes, with a hope of being readable ; if, even, her non- 
Shakespearean parts had been as near actuality as those of 
Mr. Barrie, Mr. Galsworthy, and Mr. Bernard Shaw, the com- 
mentator would still be able to call up characters possessing 
something that may fairly be termed momentum. But the 
tongues of angels would hardly avail to arouse curiosity con- 
cerning either Congreve's Zara (The Mourning Bride] or Aaron 
Hill's Zara (Zara, adapted from Voltaire's ' Zaire}, still less 
6 



82 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

concerning two characters whose names are so bewilderingly 
alike as Arpasia (Rowe's Tamerlane] and Euphrasia (Murphy's 
Grecian Daughter}. What is remarkable is that our, in other 
directions, level-headed ancestors should have cared to see 
even Mrs. Siddons, ' every week,' x in one of these simulacra of 
classicality, when, nowadays, such solid antiques as Julius 
Csesar, Cleopatra, Nero, and Ulysses require, to bring houses, 
the utmost aid from Mr. Joseph Harker, Mr. Percy Macquoid, 
and the machinist. 

Not counting Hull, four of Mrs. Siddons's five first season 
authors were already classics, viz. Southerne, Otway, Congreve, 
and Rowe, and their heroines stock characters. Murphy, alone, 
was contemporary with the actress, and no one, then or now, 
could hopefully contend that his Grecian Daughter was com- 
parable to the work of the elder men. As eighteenth century 
acting greatened to Garrick and Siddons, eighteenth century 
tragedy proportionately deteriorated. 

Next to Southerne's Isabella, there was no part in Mrs. 
Siddons's repertory she made more impressive than Belvidera in 
Otway's Venice Preserved. Not only did the ultra-susceptible 
Anna Seward's tears fall 'in full and ceaseless streams' over 
this 'soul-harrowing' impersonation; it drew half-stifled sobs 
from all London. When, in 1786, Mrs. Siddons made a single 
and 'complimentary' appearance at Covent Garden (with the 
pit at box prices) for the benefit of the widow of Henderson 
untimely cut off four months earlier it was on Belvidera she 
relied to attract a packed and profitable house. One of the 
longest female parts in English drama, it would be hard to find 
another so opulent as actors say, so juicy for a competent 
representative. Elizabeth Barry, Susanna Gibber, and Anne 
Barry had, each in turn, made a chef d'ozuvre of Belvidera. 

The central idea the donnee of Venice Preserved is, it may 
be remembered, the shame and downfall brought upon an 
originally noble nature, by excessive uxoriousness a unique 
theme, as far as I know, in acting drama. Belvidera's husband, 
Jaffier, engages, for her sake, in a murderous conspiracy against 
the Venetian senate, of which her unfatherly father is a member. 

1 and cried their ' eyes out every time 'Horace Walpole to Mason, December 7th, 
1782. 



SOME EARLY PARTS 83 

A few hours later, Jaffier, yielding to her importunities, betrays 
his accomplices, among whom is his close friend, Pierre. The 
finest scene in the play is the dialogue, on Pierre's scaffold, 
between these two men. 

Since the days of Dick Minim, Johnson's Critic who blamed 
Otway 'for making a conspirator his hero,' opinions on the 
character of Belvidera have differed. Roden Noel considered 
her ' own sister to Cordelia, Imogen, Desdemona.' Walter Scott 
believed she had rightly drawn more tears than Juliet. Lord 
Byron, who described himself as, elsewhere, a great admirer of 
Otway, styled Belvidera (and the fact that she was an imaginary 
character may, perhaps, excuse the quotation of his energetic 
phraseology) "that maudlin bitch of chaste lewdness and 
blubbering curiosity whom I utterly despise, abhor, and 
detest." 

It may be noted that Mrs. Siddons's fame for pathos is 
founded on parts outside Shakespeare. In Venice Preserved, the 
three speeches, all of the briefest, she wrote in letters of fire, 
were ' O, thou unkind one ! ' when Jaffier makes her a hostage 
for his good faith with the conspirators, * My father ! ' when she 
learns the purpose and extent of the conspiracy into these 
words which she repeated, from Jaffier's ' To kill thy father,' 
she put a horror that chilled the blood and, finally, the much- 
praised ' Remember twelve ! ' when she is hoping, by wifely 
tenderness, to undermine her husband's oath. 

With her superlative power of self-excitation, splendid 
presence, and a face malleable to every development of 
Otway's story, she was, one can entirely believe, ' electrifying,' 
as Boaden says, at the moment when Jaffier (in remorse at 
having betrayed Pierre) threatens to stab her, and she springs 
into his arms, with 

4 'Now then, kill me!" 

In Otway's The Orphan, she played the character in which 
the whole interest centres. In this drama of a wronged wife, 
painful and ' unpleasant ' though it is, she found a part more 
truly sympathetic to her personality than Belvidera. It was, 
from the theatrical standpoint, less effective, and, moreover, the 
action of The Orphan suffers from that gravest of dramatic 
faults, inadequate causation. Yet an actress could hardly hope 



84 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

for lovelier lines, outside Shakespeare, than occur in Monimia's 
dying scene 

" I'm here ; who calls me ? 

Methought I heard a voice 

Sweet as the shepherd's pipe upon the mountains, 
When all his little flock's at feed before him. 
i. ....... 

When I'm laid low i' the grave, and quite forgotten, 

Mayst thou be happy in a fairer bride ! 

But none can ever love thee like Monimia. 

When I am dead, as presently I shall be, 

For the grim tyrant grasps my heart already, 

Speak well of me ; and if thou find ill tongues 

Too busy with my fame, don't hear me wronged ; 

'Twill be a noble justice to the memory 

Of a poor wretch once honoured with thy love. 

How my head swims ! 'tis very dark. Good-night ! " 

It was not in Otway, but in Congreve, that Dr. Johnson, 
when giving his better judgment one of its recurrent holidays, 
discovered the ' paragraph ' he declared superior to any other 
descriptive passage in English poetry. To modern readers, 
Congreve stands for the creator of, in one sense, the purest 
comedy that exists, the mordant comedy, and, in spite of Lamb's 
plea, the grim, real comedy, of Lady Wishfort and Witwoud and 
Millamant, while we regard his one tragedy as uninspired and 
negligible. Yet it is worth remembering that The Mourning 
Bride contains, in addition to Johnson's piece about the cathedral, 
one of the best-known couplets in English drama and never 
was couplet better adapted to an explosive exit, viz. 

"Heav'n has no rage like love to hatred turn'd, 
Nor Hell a fury like a woman scorn'd," 

and, moreover, opens with one of the most hackneyed lines in 
poetry, 

"Music has charms to soothe a savage breast." 

All through, there is no penury of ideas in The Mourning 
Bride, and with Zara, the more vehement of its two female 
characters, executed in the grand style of Mrs. Siddons, 
without puny graces or small originalities, it was, to the 
taste of our great-grandsires, an impressive performance. In 
reading the play, the captive Moorish queen appears merely 



.; 

4 

SOME EARLY PARTS 85 

a tigress; Mrs. Siddons, at least, made her a magnificent 
tigress. Godwin told Campbell it was worth a day's journey to 
see her walk down the stage in The Mourning Bride. In the last 
scene, Zara makes away with herself by means of ' the bowl/ and 
here Mrs. Siddons went in for painful physical realism as she 
also did in the fifth act of Jane Shore. No previous actress 
had thrown such variety into death. Some one who saw her 
Zara in Dublin wrote, naively, but convincingly, as follows : 

" Her resolution of mind visible on drinking the poison, at 
the same time the natural antipathy she showed to it, was 
strikingly just ; but the apparent working of the deadly draught 
was beyond any representation I ever beheld ; at that moment 
I quite forgot the exalted soul of the beautiful Zara, and could 
only feel for the agony and torture under which a fellow- 
creature suffered." 

On Mrs. Siddons's other Zara there seems no need to dwell, 
beyond observing that it argues more vitality and inspiration 
than words can say on the part of Mrs. Gibber, Spranger 
Barry, Garrick, and Mrs. Siddons that they, each in turn, made 
so dull an affair as Hill's adaptation from Voltaire seem puissant 
and alive. " A great actor," said Mme de Stae'l, speaking, 
particularly, of Talma, "becomes, by his accents and his 
physiognomy, the second author of his parts." Far more than 
apparent authorship which an actor of later eighteenth century 
drama might reasonably have repudiated was done for Zara 
by the artists just mentioned. By the splendour of their own 
imagination, they hypnotised the audience into taking a piece 
of green cheese for the moon. 

Another of Mrs. Siddons's earlier dramatists was Nicholas 
Rowe, who, while beneath the great how far, quite under- 
stood the trick of the scene, the science des planches. Of the 
six inherited stock characters of Mrs. Siddons's first season, 
Isabella (Southerne's), Belvidera, Monimia, Zara, Calista, and 
Jane Shore, a person of to-day would, in all probability, choose 
to see Rowe's Jane Shore. We should know, beforehand, some- 
thing about the lady. Glamour invests the name of every 
king's mistress, world without end. 

Rowe's play, which still, in 1909, holds the stage, in the 
provinces, contains effective scenes and some clever characterisa- 



86 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

tion. The only part that lacks the smallest relief is ' Glo'ster,' 
and he is such unadulterated transpontine Crookback that one 
might imagine Rowe had never studied the rich arpeggio passages 
of intellectuality and irony whereby Shakespeare created a man 
in him. 

Mrs. Siddons did tremendous things with Jane Shore. The 
scene opens when the protagonist is no longer Edward v's 
pretty Jane, but poor Jane, as the epilogue, with an epilogue's 
customary contemptuousness, names her, of the Ricardian dis- 
pensation. Only an original actress could redeem the long- 
drawn whimpering of the part, as it stands in the Works of 
Rowe. One of its best touches 'a little burst of genius' is 
where Jane Shore flames up in a blessing upon Hastings, who, 
while he persecutes her, defends and protects the late king's 
children. But for this generous episode, Mrs. Siddons had to 
throw all the variety she could into the monotonous part of 
an outlawed Magdalen, knocking at unopening doors, ragged 
and famished, till, at last, she was called upon to assume the 
pinched face and dead voice of a human being, perishing from 
hunger upon the cobbles of the streets. Here, " she excited," 
says Miss Wynn, " that deep thrill of horror which made my 
blood tingle at my fingers' end." In connection with the same 
scene, another eye-witness gives a vivid impression of how Mrs. 
Siddons, like every artist capable of intense and self-forgetting 
ideas, could, at times, 1 make a complete sacrifice of beauty to 
realism, i.e. fidelity to nature. From the moment of Jane 
Shore's outlawry, says this anonymous lady writer : 

" Mrs. Siddons ceases to excite pleasure by her appearance. 
I absolutely thought her the creature perishing through want, 
' fainting from loss of food ' ; shocked at the sight, I could not 
avoid turning from the suffering object; I was disgusted at the 
idea, that an event affecting our mortal frame only, should be 
capable of producing greater misery than the most poignant 
anguish of the mind." 

Speaking of Mrs. Siddons's Calista, in The Fair Penitent 
(Rowe's disimprovement of Massinger's The Fatal Dowry)) one 
of her devotees said it would be worth sitting out the piece for 
her scene with Horatio, in order to see ' such a splendid animal 

1 As, again, in the part of Volurania. See Young's statement, p. 130. 



SOME EARLY PARTS 87 

in such a magnificent rage.' This was the part Miss Seward 
described to Whalley as the most wonderful in Mrs. Siddons's 
repertory, because of its 'conflicting and sublime variety of 
passions.' Certainly, it remained a safe card onwards from 
the first season to a comparatively late date. 1 

Turning from these comparatively classic tragedies to some 
more recently, and some contemporaneously written, let us 
see what Mrs. Siddons made of Murphy's Grecian Daughter 
(originally produced in 1772) and a few others of less mark, 
before examining the records of her handling of a celebrated 
part, Lady Randolph, in Home's Douglas. Again omitting 
the heroine of Hull's Fatal Interview, not one of the 
characters she played during her first season was ' created ' 
by her, in the technical sense of having owed to her its 
original impersonation in London. 

The part of Euphrasia, in The Grecian Daughter, was, as 
we have seen, familiar to her before she came back to London, 
and, since she desired to make her first night's appearance in 
it, no doubt it was the role in which she most 'fancied* 
herself. Murphy's tragedy is founded on the familiar legend 
of the Grecian daughter, whose starving father became her 
nursling, in that (her baby having been torn from her 
breast by the tyrant who made the old man captive) she fed 
him as she would have fed the infant a situation which, 
even in description, would seem to call for deft stage guidance 
to steer it clear of absurdity. Nevertheless, though the tragedy 
is unoriginal in style and unveracious in feeling, it must be 
believed that it made, in its time, a good stage play. Murphy 
was a member of Garrick's Drury Lane company, and, other 
things being equal, an actor take Shakespeare or Moliere as 
instances ! produces better stage plays than a merely literary 
person, even be he a Browning or a Tennyson, owing to his 
closer acquaintance with the stagecraft side of drama. 

"Wild with her grief, and terrible with wrongs," 

as she describes herself, Euphrasia may well have been too strut- 
ting an Amazon, but we have seen that the part appealed to Mrs. 
Siddons, as all family sentiment so surely did. The character, 

1 I cannot find that Mrs. Siddons acted Calista later than October 22nd, 1805. 



88 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

in its virtuous energy, suited her heroic mould, she seemed in 
it a Greek worthy of the Parthenon, and the force of her 
acting, idealising the nerveless stuff she had to utter, 'en- 
chained ' the Play-followers (to use a phrase of Foote's) * in a 
silent rapture only fearful of its own applause.' It was 
unfortunate that Murphy should have required her to cry, 
after she has stabbed Dionysius, 

" Lo ! there the wonders of Euphrasia's arm," 

and we can only suppose that the Play-followers were as 
destitute of humour as the author to let such a line pass. 

After a severe course of imperial tragedy, it was only 
human in the playgoing public to welcome, with a sigh of 
relief, a drama of contemporary private life. On Novem- 
ber 22nd, 1783, early in her second season, Mrs. Siddons 
revived Moore's The Gamester, acting, on that night, for the 
first time in London, with her brother, John, who played 
Beverley, the part Garrick had created. Mrs. Siddons was 
Mrs. Beverley, and now, and for the next twenty-nine years, 
she made the character the most thrilling and real of all her 
wifely parts, outside Shakespeare. Moore's play was ultra- 
sad, but it contained a genuine idea, and the colloquial 
simplicity of its prose strengthened its effectiveness, after so 
many ' Ye Gods ! ' in the other tragedies. 

Mrs. Siddons's art, commented on by all who ever saw 
her act, of heightening unimaginative language till it ' rose 
to touch the spheres,' found great scope in The Gamester^ and 
detached sentences from it, which seem, when read, bald and 
unconvincing, were lovingly quoted by 'old playgoers,' as 
having been the peculiar triumphs of her characterisation of 
the fond, conciliating, perfect wife. All acting should seem 
to be improvisation. Perhaps, in an ideal state, the two 
would count as one art. As Mrs. Beverley, Mrs. Siddons 
seemed to be improvising every syllable. I am reminded of 
how far it is from being the case that the finest piece makes 
the finest acting, when I reflect that the moment many 'old 
playgoers' would most wish to crystallise among their 
memories of Miss Ellen Terry's playing is when, in W. G. 
Wills's skilful, but, in itself, quite soulless adaptation of The 



SOME EARLY PARTS 89 

Vicar of Wake-field, she, as Olivia, stooped to wipe her little 
brother's eyes. 

In The Gamester, the great moment, unassisted, unfettered 
by speech, came at the end, and, here, the widow's stare of 
misery beside her gambler husband's corpse was likened, by 
Leigh Hunt, to nothing less than ' the bewildered melancholy ' 
of the same actress in the Macbeth sleep-walking scene. 
Macready's Reminiscences gives a detailed account of Mrs. 
Siddons's Mrs. Beverley, for Macready had the advantage of 
playing Beverley to her Mrs. Beverley, for one night, at 
Newcastle, in 1812, when her sun was about to set, and his to 
rise. Of the last scene, he writes : 

" Her glaring eyes were fixed in stony blankness on his 
[i.e. Beverley's] face; the powers of life seemed suspended in 
her ; her sister and Lewson gently raised her, and slowly led 
her unresisting from the body, her gaze never for an instant 
averted from it ; when they reached the prison door she stopped, 
as if awakened from a trance, with a shriek of agony that would 
have pierced the hardest heart, and, rushing from them, 1 flung 
herself as if for union in death, on the prostrate form before 
her." 

The perennial cry, ' Decline of the Drama,' was active during 
the last quarter of the eighteenth century, et pour cause. ' The 
Siddons ' had no Voltaire, as La Clairon had, to write her plays, 
and address letters of criticism and encouragement to her. 
With the possible exception of The Stranger, a play translated 
from the German, the novelties of her own day did little for her 
fame. 

It was inevitable that the literary-minded friend should, 
from the start, pester her with his manuscript tragedy, or with 
a precursory letter to say he had ' a tragedy in great forward- 
ness.' Amateur authors are of two types, the one resembling 
the mountain in labour, the other as ludicrously oblivious of 
the fact that success connotes effort. It was harder for the 
pinnacled actress, the sister of Drury Lane's Manager, to return 
what John Murray II, in a letter to Byron, termed ' a civil and 

1 Mrs. Siddons always instructed an inexperienced Jarvis (the old servant) to hold 
her tightly at this point, on account of her dramatic energy and great physical 
strength. 



90 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

delicate declension ' to applications from persons of the first type 
than to airy proposals of something in her way written while 
the author's hair was dressing. 

Among personal acquaintances we have met already, who, 
at one time or another, aimed at the high preferment of Mrs. 
Siddons's acceptance of their tragedies, was Bertie Greatheed, 
of Guy's Clifife, Esquire, Italianate and Delia Cruscan, the son 
of Mrs. Siddons's padrona of long ago. Since the emergence of 
the Kemble sister and brother, they had revived, and strongly 
cemented, their relations with the gracious and hospitable 
owners of the historic retreat beside the Avon. 

Bertie Greatheed 's accepted tragedy, The Regent, was 
produced at a date March i/th, 1788 that made its title, 
before all things, ' topical.' * Excellent in parts,' the piece had 
been written expressly for, and, it was said, under the presiding 
inspiration of, John Kemble. At any rate, Kemble was the 
Regent, and Mrs. Siddons was Dianora, the heroine. 

One of the characters, asked where the king was, replied 

" Within his tent, surrounded by a friend 
Or two " ! 

Gifford fell upon the play, in his customary style horse and 
foot, artillery and camp-followers but, even without GifTord, a 
tragedy that contained several such howlers was foredoomed. 
It crawled through two nights, and then, prompted by a 
gradually increasing buzz of inattention from boxes, pit, and 
galleries, Mrs. Siddons discreetly retired from her part, on the 
plea of indisposition. In those days, no one boggled at that 
ambiguous word, and the actress saved her friend, already 
banqueting at the Brown Bear, Bow Street, over a supposed 
success, the dismay of finding that his piece was being played 
to empty benches. Her indisposition, combining with the 
public's, practically made an end of The Regent, though it was 
announced as held over till April 26th, and was, actually, played, 
in all, eight times. 1 

Whalley was another private friend, who 'landed' Mrs. 
Siddons with an impossible tragedy the tragedy of a thorough- 
paced amateur. Following fashion's romantic wave ruined 

1 Genest mistakenly says (vi. 477) it was ' acted but once ' April ist. 



SOME EARLY PARTS 91 

turrets and broken bridges were the rage in 1799 the piece 
was called The Castle of Montval^ but its plot was already cut 
from under it by ' Monk ' Lewis's The Castle Spectre, recently 
successfully produced. 

In Whalley's tragedy, a castle contains one room into which 
the owner, a Bluebeard II, forbids his bride, during his absence, 
to penetrate. Left alone, furnished with a bunch of keys, and 
hearing moans issuing from the forbidden chamber, the lady, 
accompanied, as far as the door, by a devoted seneschal, enters 
it. Within, she finds an incarcerated, venerable, and unexpected 
father-in-law, whom she greets with the not unnatural question, 
" Are you the ghost? " In conclusion, 

" The hero raves, the heroine cries, 
All stab, and everybody dies." 

Mrs. Siddons and John and Charles Kemble, the last- 
named already observed as a studious and improving young 
actor, did their utmost for Whalley's tragedy, but the wonder is 
that it lived eight nights. An exasperating custom prevailed 
on the part of Managers of advertising a mild failure, next day, 
as a success. It was partly from this cause that first night 
damnations became so violent. 

Mrs. Siddons's impersonation of Lady Randolph, in Douglas^ 
first undertaken by her on December 22nd, 1783, put the final 
seal on her reputation. In deciding to play this part she 
challenged the, as yet, definitively unconquered Mrs. Crawford, 
whose chief estate, almost whose monopoly, Lady Randolph 
had become. The direct contest was inevitable, and Mrs. 
Siddons was well advised in entering upon it when and how she 
did. On the whole, she triumphed. Mrs. Crawford had been a 
fine, impassioned Lady Randolph, but, wherever the acting ot 
the two most differed, there, it was felt, Shakespeare's standard 
and test of dramatic art, the modesty of nature, declared for 
Mrs. Siddons. 

Among the historic sentences of the stage, comparable with 
Henderson's 

"The fair Ophelia!" 

and Mrs. Siddons's 

"Lord cardinal, 
To you I speak," 



92 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

old playgoers counted Mrs. Crawford's 

"Was he alive?" 

when, as Lady Randolph, she listened to the prisoner's account 
of the adventure to which her lost, and, as yet, unrecovered, son 
had been, in infancy, subjected. Mrs. Crawford shrieked " Was 
he alive ? " on an irresistible maternal impulse, and Bannister says 
he once saw half the pit start to its feet at her * heart-gushing ' 
cry. Mrs. Siddons took the sentence in a different key. She 
remembered that Lady Randolph was bound not to reveal her- 
self as the boy's mother, and such secrecy had become habitual. 
" Was he alive ? " she murmured, in a half-annihilated tone, as 
when the heart stands still, and one speaks what one feels, not 
what one ought to say. Her question was (to Home's credit) a 
profound representation of instinct, thinking aloud, for Lady 
Randolph does not seriously believe Old Norval's assurance 

"He was," 

since she instantly hurls back 

"Inhuman that thou art! 
How could'st thou kill what waves and tempests spared?" 

so proving that the inquiry could not have been, as Mrs. 
Crawford interpreted it, the sudden, rushing need to inform 
herself of his safety. Furthermore, Mrs. Siddons's faint articu- 
lation of 

"Was he alive?" 

suggested that Lady Randolph's long endurance, its agony 
intensified by the details of her child's perils, just listened to 
in the shepherd's story, was at last at breaking-point. Here, 
as elsewhere, her acting was truthfully imagined, though, by 
those who, still, held by Mrs. Crawford's, her rendition of the 
part was, naturally, censured. Her ' starts and stares ' were 
objected to, and so was the motion of her head, ' which seems 
to dance upon elastic wire, like that of Punch's antic Queen.' 

On what principle did Mrs. Siddons accept or reject dramatic 
parts ? She very properly avoided characters in which there 
was what Garrick called * a lofty disregard of nature,' but she 
believed, as she told the inquiring ' Lady L' [ucan ?] that, if a 



SOME EARLY PARTS 93 

part seemed at all within nature, something might be made out 
of it. Where there was opportunity for genuine passion, she 
knew she could grip the house, though here something might 
have to be set in stronger relief than the author had indicated, 
and there, something slurred or deleted. A great player 
creates, in part, by selection. The degree of skill in selection 
which means the envisagement, the general handling of the 
part largely determines the player's rank as an artist. 

We picture Mrs. Siddons running her eye down the pages 
of a new tragedy, and, gradually, losing herself in the state of 
exaltation actors induce at will, the ever-renewed power to 
adopt an imaginary personality, and relinquish, for the passing 
hour, their own. As every writer on the histrionic temperament 
has pointed out since Diderot published his ' Paradoxel the 
player's art is representation, not identification, and, indeed, 
the simple fact that nothing on the stage is carried to a legiti- 
mate conclusion, that the slain Hamlet does not really die, nor 
the distraught Ophelia drift across the footlights, proves that 
the player only plays the part. Since, broadly speaking, his 
effects depend on his being (like ice) at the same time melting 
and cold, the first measure of his greatness as an artist is his 
impressibility, the second, his control over it. Not only actors, 
but painters, sculptors, writers, are in a tale here. What 
that much misused phrase, the Artistic Temperament, rightly 
means is the gift all these people possess to enter into, and 
reproduce feeling other than their own. It is mental, in 
contradistinction to moral, sympathy that makes the artist. 
" Cest un certain temperament de bon sens et de chaleur qui 
fait Pacteur sublime? 

Yet the nobler and more imaginative the player, the more 
intensely does he recast his own individuality, and pour himself, 
mind and body, into moulds not his. Brief though such im- 
personations are, it is impossible in spite of Diderot not to 
believe that, little by little, they impair the original tissue, and 
leave the player, by dint of becoming many, something less 
than one. The slightness of the extent to which this dis- 
integrative process operated in the case of Mrs. Siddons is one 
of the most remarkable facts about her psychological history. 
She maintained, behind her many parts, a particularly definite 



94 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

individuality, literal and unaffluent it is true, but grappling 
with what hooks she had (as Johnson said of Baretti) very 
forcibly. When, early in her first season, Lord Carlisle carried 
her what Walpole calls ' the tribute-money ' from Brooks's, 
he said she was not manieree enough. Alone among actresses, 
she was nothing of an actress off the stage. 



VIII 
HER STARRING EXPERIENCES 

JOHN KEMBLE was acting, with distinguished applause, 
in Dublin, and mixing there in the best society, through- 
out Mrs. Siddons's triumphant first winter in London. At 
a dinner in the apartments of Walpole's friend, Captain Jephson, 
the playwright equerry, in Dublin Castle, Lord Inchiquin 
gave as a toast ' the matchless Siddons,' and, drawing from 
his finger a ring, containing her portrait, set in diamonds, sent 
it on a salver to Mr. Kemble, to desire his opinion of the 
likeness. Where this was the preparative tone in dominant 
circles, a starring visit was markedly ' indicated.' 

Early in June, 1783, Mrs. Siddons, accompanied by Mr. 
Siddons as her natural protector ; William Brereton as a 
'First Serious' subsidiary to Kemble; Francis Aickin, in- 
valuable in such parts as needed to be * manly, polite, earnest, 
and sensible ' ; and one of her sisters, as her private and stage 
confidante, crossed the Irish Channel. It was the first time 
she had set foot on the sliding sea. " I never felt the majesty 
of the Divine Creator so fully before. I was dreadfully sick," 
she wrote to Whalley, and, on the strength of her single 
experience, proceeded to give her friend ' a little wholesor"~ 
advice' against a similar capitulation. " A 11 ways (you see 
I have forgot to spell) go to bed the instant you go on board, 
for by lying horizontally, and keeping very quiet, you cheat 
the sea of half its influence." 

Her sufferings were not ended on her reaching the Dublin 
landing-stage, on June i6th. The party arrived, after a stormy 
passage, at 12.30 a.m. The rain was streaming down, and, 
instead of being driven to a comfortable inn, Mrs. Siddons 
and Miss Kemble, after spending an hour and a half in the 

95 



96 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

' dungeon ' of a Custom house, had to walk about the wet 
streets, looking for a shelter that, at two in the morning, seemed 
momentarily more unlikely. At last, they were taken in at 
the house where Brereton's father, Major Brereton, a Dublin 
resident, had secured his son a bed, the landlady repeatedly 
protesting that it was contrary to her rule to entertain ladies. 

Naturally, Mrs. Siddons's first impression of the Irish 
capital was unfavourable. She roundly called it 'a sink of 
filthiness.' And her unfavourable impression did not, altogether, 
wear off as time went on. She took against the people. 
"They are all ostentation and insincerity, and in their ideas 
of finery very like the French, but not so cleanly. They are 
tenacious of their country to a degree of folly that is very 
laughable." Thus she wrote, for transmission abroad, on 
July I4th. As it chanced, she omitted to prepay the postage 
on these treasonable opinions, and the letter was officially 
opened in Ireland. 

In pursuance of his custom of paying an annual visit to 
London to recruit his company, Daly, then Manager of the 
Smock Alley Theatre, had personally been over to clinch 
an engagement with Mrs. Siddons. Most probably, he went 
during ' the Passion Week,' when all the Managers who 
wanted people, and all the actors who wanted employment, 
habitually assembled in London. 

Once more, Mrs. Siddons led off with Southerne's Isabella. 
This was on June 21st. 1 Seats were at fancy prices. In 
a 'humourous Account' of her reception (published after the 
second night) included in the miscellany entitled Edwin's 
Pills to Purge Melancholy, among a number of less apposite 
epithets, she is termed " this Moon of blank verse ! this Queen 
and Princess of tears ! this World of weeping clouds ! this 
Juno of commanding aspect ! this Proserpine of fire and earth- 
quake!" The tone is intentionally insolent. In all probability, 
Peter Seguin, the author (who manifests more than the average 
Irishman's lack of humour) was a partisan of Mrs. Crawford. 

A note to the pasquinade states that, when it first 
appeared, 'The lady's friends were outrageous against the 
author,' who long 'kept himself snug,' and let others have 

1 Boaden says, June 2Oth. 



HER STARRING EXPERIENCES 97 

the discredit of it. Though it was, no doubt, in effect, 
libellous to describe a few hisses on the second night as 
authoritative, it yet seems clear that Mrs. Siddons did not, 
at once, become Dublin's universal idol. In every theatre 
outside London, the starring player, the 'exotic/ has to run 
the gauntlet of a natural cavil against London's verdict of 
merit. It must be acknowledged that, in spite of her 
magnetism of sheer power, Mrs. Siddons lacked the quality 
better fitted to win the Irish vote bonhomie. The rougher 
element in an Irish audience loved to put itself in personal 
relations with the actors on the boards. Lady Morgan's 
(and Macready's) story of the man who, in the friendliest 
spirit, stage-whispered to Laurence Clinch, as Lothario, from 
the gallery, "Larry, honey, there's the laste taste in life of 
yer shirt got out behind you," symbolises much. At Cork, 
the galleries tried a little familiarity with Mrs. Siddons. 
" Sally, me jewel, how are you ? " sang out some one. But 
Mrs. Siddons, like the lady in the grammatical example of 
the force of the comma, walked on her head a little higher 
than usual. 

The fresh actress had to conquer the disadvantage of 
being English, before an audience accustomed to applaud 
first-rate performers who were also Irish. Practically all the 
best later eighteenth century players, with the exception of 
the two greatest, were of Hibernian extraction. It was not 
easy for the newcomer to displace Mrs. Crawford (who, just 
before, had been acting at the selfsame theatre) in her ancient 
stronghold, whence, in 1803, two years after she died, the 
last attempt to prove her superiority emanated in * Funereal 
Stanzas,' strongly dwelling on her 'nature's genuine glow,' 
in contradistinction to Mrs. Siddons's ' mock-gems, produc'd 
from stone' 

Mrs. Siddons's season terminated, says Charles Lee Lewes 
(the grandfather of George Eliot's Lewes) on the twelfth night, 
or thereabouts. She then went on to Cork, accompanied 
by her brother, John. His three years' engagement at Drury 
Lane was just signed. , 

Within about ten weeks, Mrs. Siddons made ;iooo out 
of Irish admiration of her art, so that, in spite of P. little 
7 



98 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

journalistic malice, probably due to pro-Crawford prejudice, 
at the outset, she very sensibly thought her first visit to 
Ireland a success, and arranged to go there again for a 
longer period the following year. 

From 1783 onwards until 1805, she paid sjx visits to Dublin. 
A pseudonymous booklet, entitled The Beauties of Mrs. 
Siddons, gives, in the form of letters, one dealing with each 
rdle, a warmly laudatory account of her Dublin appearances 
during 1785, when she went through a repertory of six 
characters, Belvidera, Zara, Isabella, Margaret of Anjou, Jane 
Shore, and Lady Randolph. From chance records we gather 
that she woke more general Irish enthusiasm away from 
Dublin. She was described, by Francis Twiss, as finishing 
her engagement in Belfast in 1785, 'with most uncommon 
eclat! Every night the whole of the pit had been turned into 
boxes not a single hat visible. 

In the world of society, Mrs. Siddons met with unqualified 
success in a country where it had long been the right thing 
to pet players. Her Manager, Richard Daly, of Castle Daly, 
patentee of the Theatre Royal, Dublin, though no gentleman 
where pretty and poor young actresses were concerned, 
enjoyed the reputation of paying his company to a shilling; 
he was a man of family, and, but for a squint, very good- 
looking; on general grounds he appeared justifiably at his 
ease on the Mall in Sackville Street, where fashion congregated. 
He was well able to make the star and her husband acquainted 
with the right people. 

Mrs. Siddons had a still better introduction from another 
source. The lady, who, as the Hon. Henrietta Boyle, with 
her stepfather, then Lord Bruce, had discovered the young 
actress at Cheltenham, and become gushingly intimate with her, 
now reappeared as the wife of John O'Neill, of Shanes Castle, 
on the Antrim shore of Lough Neagh, and to that historic 
house destroyed in its then form (and including the private 
theatre Mr. O'Neill built) by fire, not long afterwards Mrs. 
Siddons was cordially bidden on her second visit to Ireland, 
in 1784. Her record of her stay there is worth transcribing. 

"The luxury of this establishment," she wrote, "almost 
inspired the recollection of an Arabian night's entertainment. 



HER STARRING EXPERIENCES 99 

Six or eight carriages, with a numerous throng of lords and 
ladies on horseback, began the day by making excursions 
over this terrestrial paradise, returning home just in time to 
dress for dinner. The table was served with a profusion and 
elegance to which I have not seen anything comparable. 
The sideboards were decorated with adequate magnificence, 
on which appeared several immense silver flagons containing 
claret. A fine band of musicians played during the whole 
of the repast ; they were stationed in the corridors, which led 
to a fine conservatory, where we plucked our dessert, from 
numerous trees, of the most exquisite fruits." 

N. P. Willis, after a severe course of patrician claret and 
1 fruits,' could not * pencil ' more lusciously ; Thackeray, 
burlesquing Coningsby, could scarcely outdo the silver flagons 
appearing on adequate magnificence. Since her term at 
Guy's Cliffe, Mike but,' as far as her own prestige was con- 
cerned, ' oh, how different,' nothing to equal Shanes Castle in 
the way of an interior, had come into her experience, for 
Langford Court, the Whalleys' place, was not, of course, 
maintained in the style of a great country house. 

In the O'Neills' party, Mrs. Siddons met and became 
interested (as who was not?) in one of the tragic Romantics 
of Irish history, one who was a traitor, or a martyr, or a 
divine fool, according to the point of view. "Poor Lord 
Edward Fitzgerald, the most amiable, honourable, though 
misguided youth I ever knew," commented Mrs. Siddons. 

During the latter part of her second summer's Irish 
engagement, she stayed with Lord Edward's mother, 
the re-married Dowager Duchess of Leinster, and enjoyed 
the glory of driving in from Frescati, Black Rock, to Dublin 
for rehearsals. No wonder that the greenroom monster, 
jealousy, gnashed his teeth. 

After his classic interview with her at his house in Bolt 
Court, Fleet Street, Dr. Johnson decided that the Mrs. Siddons 
of 1783 was unspoilt by the two powerful corrupters of man- 
kind, praise and money. The discernment of the 'venerable 
Luminary ' was better evinced in his general postulate than in 
his particular exception. It was shortly after her first visit 
to Ireland that rumours began to be heard of some slight 



ioo THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

scath from ' praise/ and a certain impairment from ' money.' 
One fancies that the Grand Old Sentimentalist spoke while 
still under the soft memory of the lady's beauty, and his own 
felicity of compliment, when, apologising for Frank Barber's 
momentary inability to offer her a chair unencumbered by 
books, he said, " Madam, you who so often occasion a want 
of seats to other people, will the more easily excuse the 
want of one yourself." 

It is told that our heroine was so inebriated with the incense 
burnt by Irish great ladies and the Lord Lieutenant (who was 
an English Duke) that she grew more than a little uppish 
towards any humbler people who ventured to approach with 
their small joss-sticks. One conte, palpably founded on a 
general impression, describes her stonily refusing sittings to 
Robert Home, then a Dublin portrait painter, on the plea that 
she hardly had time to sit to Reynolds, and then proceeding to 
box the man's ears (this detail is not ben trovatd) because he 
riposted by saying he should be able to live without painting 
her. Another story describes poor * Sid ' telling the wife of a 
merchant who was entertaining him and Kemble at dinner, that, 
though he should like to further her wish to be introduced to 
Mrs. Siddons, he did ' not know how to break such a matter to 
her.' " This anecdote," artlessly adds the ' Theatrical Portrait ' 
in the European Magazine, September, 1783, whence I glean it, 
" is not fabricated." 

Owing, partly, to her rapid success and fashionable following, 
partly to her uncomplaisant character, Mrs. Siddons had, at this 
time, a considerable number of theatrical enemies, hissing 
detraction. " I have paid severely for my eminence," she said. 
The public need never have known much that was mis- 
representation, and something, too, that, in her own behaviour, 
was regrettable, had it not been that hers was peculiarly a period 
in which newspaper editors went avidly scavenging for material 
suggested by malice. The most rancorous things ever printed 
concerning Mrs. Siddons are to be found in the theatrical 
paragraphs of the European Magazine. 

She herself attributed the cloud of unpopularity that, more 
or less, hung over her during the latter half of 1784 to her 
Irish Manager, Daly, in the first instance. Daly was 



HER STARRING EXPERIENCES 101 

admittedly, an inordinately vain man, and, in her Memoranda, 
bequeathed to Campbell, she says he could not forgive her for 
preventing him, in King John , from standing, as Faulconbridge, 
in the centre of the stage, during her ' best scene,' as Constance. 
In revenge, she states, he rilled the Dublin press with railings at 
her well-known thrift, which his paragraphists called avarice. 
Gradually, these railings, stiffened out by modern instances of 
her meanness, * found their way ' into the London papers. So 
she accounted for the hostile demonstration which, as we shall 
see, greeted her on the opening night of her 1784-85 season at 
Drury Lane. 

Since the causes of the passing and partial wave of odium 
that now overtook her were, in a special sense, personal, it is 
necessary to our study of her psychological life to 

"Let this old woe step on the stage again." 

The trouble was connected with two actors : Brereton, who, 
in 1784, again accompanied her to Ireland, and Digges, whom 
she found there. Brereton was a mediocre tragedian, or, at 
least, had only appeared mediocre till, during the winter of 
1782-83, he was called upon to play Jaffier to her Belvidera, 
at Drury Lane, and (in the language of the day) * derived a new 
soul from the collision/ at any rate, played, especially in the 
ardent third act, better than he had ever played before. 
Every one said that he, a married man, had fallen in hopeless 
love with Mrs. Siddons. Very possibly, it was so. The 
excellent Mrs. Siddons was the last person to be attendrie by 
any Mr. Brereton's susceptibility. 

In the summer of 1784, at her desire, Brereton was re- 
engaged for Ireland, without salary, but on the understanding 
that his emolument was to be a benefit free of charges, with 
Mrs. Siddons acting in it. In the middle of the engagement, 
he fell ill, was " given over by his physicians," and could not 
play for her benefit. When he recovered, and talked of his, 
she refused to play for him entirely gratis, because he had 
not played for her. 50 per night for twenty consecutive nights 
was her pay from Daly, but at the various benefits she accepted 
30. For Brereton, she now proposed to play for 20. Finally, 
partly in consequence of illness on her part, which sliced 



102 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

almost a fortnight off the benefit end of her season, his 
benefit never took place. Since his mental health was already 
quivering while in Dublin he attempted suicide; in 1785, 
became stark mad; and, in 1787, died in Hoxton Asylum 
he, most likely, expressed over vehemently to his friends his 
disappointment about his benefit, and his friends, in all 
probability, retailed his indignation rather than the exact facts 
of his injury, whereby the statement got about that Mrs. 
Siddons had refused, on any consideration, to act for him. 
What a newspaper correspondent (supposed to be Kemble) 
who wrote over the signature of ' Laertes/ urged in defence of 
her apparent hardness merits consideration 

" Mr. Brereton and his wife have an ample salary at Drury 
Lane Theatre. They cannot receive less than five hundred 
pounds per annum. Mrs. Siddons performed for the benefit 
of Mr. Brereton only a few months before, by which he must 
have cleared nearly two hundred pounds. Could he be, there- 
fore, an object of such necessity as to require a gratis 
performance ? " 

At about the same date (July, 1784), unfortunately for Mrs. 
Siddons, old West Digges, whose life had been none too 
reputable and none too prosperous, fell down, paralysed, 
whilst rehearsing with her in Dublin. As to what she did, 
or did not do, on this occasion, to assist a broken brother-actor, 
accounts materially vary. " It occurred to me that I might 
be of some use to him, if I could persuade the Manager to 
give him a night at the close of my engagement. I proposed 
my request to the Manager," is what she says. Her ill-wishers 
and the irresponsible accused her of first refusing to act, and, 
later, of demanding 50 if she acted, with an understanding 
that the fact of the fee was to be kept secret. Here, calumny 
stood confessed, for it was preposterous to allege she had 
asked Digges 20 more than she would have asked any 
actor in possession of a salary and good prospects. 

In the following memoranda of Mrs. Siddons's own, we do 
not, I fear, catch a vision of Our Lady of Bounties, joyous in 
bestowal, and making little of her act of grace 

" By indefatigable labour, and in spite of cruel annoyances, 
Mr. Siddons and myself got together, from all the little country 



HER STARRING EXPERIENCES 103 

theatres, as many as would enable us to attempt 'Venice 
Preserved.' Oh! to be sure it was a scene of disgust and 
confusion. I acted Belvidera, without having ever previously 
seen the face of one of the actors. Poor Mr. Digges was most 
materially benefited by this most ludicrous performance; and 
I put my disgust into my pocket, since money passed into 
his." 

What had never been cordially conceded was .grudgingly 
carried out, but, certainly, under adverse conditions. These, 
however, Mrs. Siddons appears to have brought upon herself 
by her delayed second thoughts, for when Digges's ' messenger,' 
who was, seemingly, Daly, originally applied to her, it is 
inconceivable that he proposed to have the benefit held over 
till after the company had moved to Limerick. 

Unhappily, Mrs. Siddons had by no means heard the last 
of the charmless name of 'poor Mr. Digges.' When she 
returned to London, she found that evil report had been busy, 
and, by September 3Oth, felt it necessary to put forth, in Mr. 
Siddons's name, a newspaper letter, denying the truth of the 
accusations levelled at her, while laying the burden of actual 
disproof on Brereton, who, also, was in London, and on 
Digges. Three days later, Mr. Siddons was able to publish 
the following letter, addressed in no very large-hearted style 
to himself, from Brereton : 

" SIR, I am concerned to find Mrs. Siddons has suffered 
in the public opinion on my account. I have told you before, 
and I again repeat it, that to the friends I have seen I have 
taken pains to exculpate her from the least unkindness to me 
in Dublin. I acknowledge she did agree to perform at my 
benefit for a less sum than for any other performer, but her 
illness prevented it ; and that she would have played for me 
after that had not the night been appointed after she had 
played three times in the same week and that the week after 
her illness and I am very willing you shall publish this letter, 
if you think it will be of the least service to Mrs. Siddons, to 
whom I am proud to own many obligations of friendship. 
I am, Sir, your very humble servant, 

" W. BRERETON " 

This letter made the newspapers very active and foolish. 



104 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

What follows from the General Advertiser, October 7th, is a 
specimen of the sort of thing editors printed then : 

"QUERE, TO MR. BRERETON 

" Did you or did Mr. Siddons write the letter signed 
W. Breretont Answer this as you value your HONOUR; for 
much depends upon it. The public say Mr. Siddons wrote, 
and that you scratched, and then signed. THEATRICUS." 

Perhaps Kemble or some other one of Mrs. Siddons's 
champions represented to Brereton that his letter read un- 
commonly cold. By October 5th he had been induced to 
address 'The Printer of the Public Advertiser* in another, 
equally fishlike. " Why," inquires ' Laertes,' censuring what 
he calls Brereton's " unexplicit first card " and " last summary 
card," " did he not gratefully step forward by a circumstantial 
letter, as he was repeatedly called upon, previously to Mrs. 
Siddons's arrival ? . . . [His] expressions seemed extorted and 
inconclusive. The tongues of slander, in broken sentences, 
discovered mercenary motives only in their explication of less 
sum, though attempted to be veiled, they said, by Mr. Brereton's 
delicacy. Whereas the transaction was veiled only by his 
obscure brevity." 

Tom King, Mrs. Siddons's loyal friend, introduced a 
tentative and understood reference to 'living worth,' in the 
prologue with which, on September 3Oth, he opened the Drury 
Lane season, but the line was ill received by a portion of the 
audience. It must be conjectured that when Mrs. Siddons 
drove down from her newly leased house in Gower Street, 1 to 
the theatre, for her first performance, on October 5th (at ' Half 
after Six,' The Gamester, Mrs. Beverley, Mrs. Siddons) she was 
apprehensive of unpleasantness. 

It came, as soon as she appeared, in the form of hisses 2 and 
a cry of 'Off! Off!' She waited; the clamour grew louder. 

1 " . . . the back of it is most effectually in the country, and delightfully pleasant"- 
Mrs. Siddons to Whalley. Whalley, i. 425. I am indebted to Mr. A. R. 6. Stutfield, 
of the Bedford Office, for the facts that No. 14 (now 28) was the number of the 
house, and that William Siddons agreed to become assignee of the lease from 
1 786 until 1814. 

2 The Morning Chronicle, October 6th, said that an eighth of the audience hissed. 



HER STARRING EXPERIENCES 105 

Two or three times she tried to speak, but vainly. At length 
I quote from her own account, in the Campbell Memoranda, of 
this ordeal of an evening 

" A gentleman stood forth in the front of the pit, . . . who 
accosted me in these words : ' For heaven's sake, madam, do 
not degrade yourself by an apology, for there is nothing 
necessary to be said/ I shall always look back with gratitude 
to this gallant man's solitary advocacy of my cause : like ' Abdiel, 
faithful found ; among the faithless, faithful only he! His 
admonition was followed by reiterated clamour, when my dear 
brother appeared, and carried me away from this scene of 
insult. The instant I quitted it, I fainted in his arms ; and, 
on my recovery, I was thankful that my persecutors had not 
the gratification of beholding this weakness. After I was 
tolerably restored to myself, I was induced, by the persuasions 
of my husband, my brother, and Mr. Sheridan, to present my- 
self again before that audience by whom I had been so savagely 
treated, and before whom, but in consideration of my children, 
I would have never appeared again." 

Encouraged, no doubt, by the friendlier voices that had 
been calling her back, Mrs. Siddons came on alone, advanced 
to the centre of the footlights, and, gazing into the cavern full 
of eyes that fronted her, thus addressed the house : 

" Ladies and Gentlemen, The kind and flattering partiality 
which I have uniformly experienced in this place would make 
the present interruption distressing to me indeed, were I in the 
slightest degree conscious of having deserved your censure. 
I feel no such consciousness. The stories which have been 
circulated against me are calumnies. When they shall be 
proved to be true my aspersers will be justified ; but, till then, 
my respect for the public leads me to be confident that I shall 
be protected from unmerited insult." 

It was a dignified denial, and its speaker's steadiness under 
fire created a revulsion of feeling. King came forward to 
entreat a few minutes for her to recover from what the Public 
Advertiser termed * her flurry,' and, when the curtain presently 
rose on Mrs. Beverley, the house was hushed. " Mrs. Siddons, 
on Tuesday evening," said the Morning Chronicle, "in a new 
and irksome situation indeed, displayed the most sincere 



io6 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

innocence, even by the peculiarity of her fortitude." It was 
her lifelong gift to shine brightest in adversity. 

Up to October 22nd, in consequence of adverse winds 
delaying the Irish mails, Digges's solicited testimonial was still 
to seek. It then appeared, in the Morning Chronicle, as 
follows : 

" SIR, I empower you to declare to the publick, that I did 
not pay Mrs. Siddons for playing for my benefit. I thanked the 
lady by letter for her politeness, which I am informed she has 
mislaid. I think it is but justice to inform you of this. 

"WEST DlGGES 

"To Mr. Woodfall" 

This was even worse certainly, more churlish than 
Brereton's reserved exculpations. As regarded the unkindest 
cut in each allegation as to ' benefits forgot/ Mrs. Siddons had, 
clearly, been slandered ; yet it was no great wonder that, in the 
face of such evidence to this as Brereton and Digges's letters, 
the average man caught up and conserved an eidolon he could 
name stingy Siddons, the Lady Sarah Save-All. When a 
public that lives on catchwords gets hold of catchwords as 
well adapted to its comprehension as these, it does not readily 
drop them, and so Mrs. Siddons, like Garrick before her, was, 
throughout her life, found guilty, by the gallery verdict, of an 
undue love of money. The average man resents thrift in a 
class he has been brought up to summarise, on the financial 
side, as light come, light go. It upsets his labels. Secretly, 
he would prefer to hold the nose of every 'bohemian,' to a 
grindstone, engraved, at first, ' open-handedness/ and, later, 
1 improvidence.' 

' Laertes ' may have been a special pleader, but he talked 
sense when he asked, "If a lady, perhaps, be prudent in 
making a future provision for herself and family a theatrical 
phenomenon indeed ! must she sacrifice that prudence at 
the shrine of the imprudence of others ? " It is almost needless 
to say that those members of Mrs. Siddons's own profession 
who were not addicted to 'muddling away money on trades- 
men's bills ' enthusiastically joined the hue and cry against her. 
They could not deny the statement made by Lee Lewes that, 



HER STARRING EXPERIENCES 107 

at Cork, in 1783, she gave two benefits for charities, in addition 
to her gratis performances at Aickin's benefit and at Lewes's 
own. But they could make vague, oblique accusations 
that she 'would as soon part with her eye teeth as with a 
guinea/ that she was the one parsimonious person at green- 
room collections for indigent actors, that at St Martin's 
Church, while the organ was playing out the congregation 
on a hospital Sunday, she lingered behind to evade the plate. 
Mrs. Abington's generosity to all fellow - players at their 
benefits was bepraised. It might have been retorted 
that Mrs. Siddons was an actress who had no sources of 
income less honourable than her art. In the Public 
Advertiser r , for February 3rd, 1785, appeared a letter (attri- 
buted to 'Shakespeare' Steevens) in which Mrs. Siddons's 
'rapture' of hospitality in the Macbeth banquet scene was 
sarcastically contrasted with her abstention from hospitality 
in Gower Street. 

Not only journalists, but pamphleteers also, enormously 
worked up any depreciatory gossip of the coulisses. As late 
as 1786, for example, a tract appeared, entitled The Green- 
Room Mirror, with an article the last of many on various 
players on Mrs. Siddons, bearing, for motto, Rosalind's 

" Who might be your mother, 
That you insult, exult, and all at once, 
Over the wretchedl" etc. etc. 

after which, the mouther proceeded to talk about "Adversity 
metamorphosed into Affluence, riding in the chariot of Plenty^ 
hurling that identical Charity by which she was rendered an 
object of notice and independence, from the throne of pity to the 
eternal seat of despair " ! 

However much we may be admirers of Mrs. Siddons, it is 
impossible to consider that she came, in reality, altogether 
well out of either the Brereton or the Digges affair. Some- 
thing may be allowed for misunderstanding, something for 
the malicious report of the envious, yet, taken all round, the 
evidence obliges us to see that she was, at best, only kind, 
in the Digges case, on an arriere pensee. It must frankly 
be stated that she never felt any spontaneous prompting to 



io8 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

take the children's her children's bread, and cast it to 
dogs of actors. The generosity towards brother-players in 
distress which is so winning a characteristic of the majority 
of successful players she did not possess. She had less esprit 
de corps even than the majority of wedded women. Her sense 
of responsibility was limited to the wants of her own nestlings. 
It was in keeping that, at a much later date (1815), she refused 
to play, except ' on her brother's terms ' Le. half the receipts 
and a clear benefit for the widow and orphans of her son 
Henry, who died while Manager of the Edinburgh Theatre. 
She was the crude mother of the animal world, and, like all 
organisms that conform to Nature's plan 

" Bounded by themselves, and unregardful 
In what state God's other works may be" 

she felt strong and satisfied, and lived her life untroubled 
by the prick of conscience. 

Late in 1784, or early in 1785, Lord Hardwicke introduced 
to her a book of Greek history. She was studying a new 
part (Desdemona) which allowed her little time for inde- 
pendent reading, but when Lord Hardwicke asked her how 
she liked the book, she replied, in an unpublished letter 
among the recently acquired Hardwicke MSS in the British 
Museum 

" I think the memoirs of Pericles laid the strongest hold 
on me, this perhaps may be accounted for by my presumption 
having felt myself in some measure in his situation having 
been the favourite of the Mob one year and the next de- 
graded by them it remains only that I may like him be 
reinstated, when Malice is cold, and Candour takes its turn. 
Your Lordship does me honour in desiring to be mentioned in 
my Memoirs if the world shou'd ever be troubled with them 
it will reflect great honour on me to say I had the suffrage 
of so noble a Personage." 

Mrs. Siddons sometimes spelt amiss, but she rarely, if 
ever, wrote shambling English. At all times, she was, if 
an increasingly procrastinating and infrequent, a fluent and 
able letter-writer, though, occasionally, her tendency towards 
plausibility, le beau geste, and even self-righteousness rather 




MRS. SIDDONS 

HY GAINSBOROUGH 



HER STARRING EXPERIENCES 109 

mars the impression of her which her letters would, otherwise, 
unfailingly produce. 

By one of life's unlucky concatenations, Dublin was, 
once more, in 1802, the scene of a reported niggardliness on 
Mrs. Siddons's part. Then, Frederic E. Jones, a man of 
property and position, who, at the time, magnificently 
managed the Theatre Royal, appears to have failed to carry 
into effect her assent her cheerful assent, she afterwards called 
it to his proposal that she should give her services in a per- 
formance for the benefit of the Lying-in Hospital. Wrongful 
report charged her with the whole fault of the omission of 
the performance, her popularity was again threatened, and, 
although the trustees of the hospital publicly contradicted the 
aspersion on her 'Mrs. Siddons had most certainly never 
refused to act for them, and indeed had never been requested 
to do so,' she thought it necessary to address to ' that tyrant 
Jones ' * an open letter, explanatory of, at all events, her 
innocence of having been unready to assist * so laudable an 
institution/ 

Mrs. Siddons took Edinburgh by storm. She first went there 
for a nine nights' engagement, 2 in 1784, on her way to Dublin 
and Cork. " They treated me," she said of the Scotch, writing, 
on June 2ist, to Whalley, "most nobly." She had cause to 
intensify the remark with each fresh visit she made. On one 
day, 2550 people applied for the 650 seats at the disposal of 
the Management, and the Church Synod had to arrange its 
meetings to suit her performances. Siddons fever ran so high, 
and a sense of the grotesque was so lacking, that, once, at a 
later date, ' the Athenians ' encored her sleep-walking scene in 
Macbeth, till she was obliged to go through it again. At 
Edinburgh, in 1784, in nine nights, she cleared considerably 
over fyoo. She carried home, not only gold, but silver. The 
latter took the form, in 1784, of a hot-water urn ('an elegant 
tea-vase'), in 1788, of a 'massive' tea-tray, presented by 
the Faculty of Advocates, and inscribed ' To Mrs. Siddons 
As an Acknowledgment of Respect for Eminent Virtues, 

1 Mrs. Galindo's letter to Mrs. Siddons, Appendix, 48, 1809. 

2 She actually acted ten nights, in the ordinary way, an eleventh for the benefit 
of ' the Charity Workhouse,' and a twelfth for her own benefit. 



i io THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

and of Gratitude for Pleasure Received From Unrivalled 
Talents.' 

Macbeth and Douglas, the two national plays, were the 
pieces that best pleased Scots audiences. At Douglas, Cale- 
donia clapped its hands and wings, and, once again, declared 
Home the Shakespeare, or something greater, of his country. 
Then, or earlier, Walpole might have walked in peril of his life 
had he murmured over the Border what, in his acid and lively 
way, he proclaimed at * Twittenham ' that he knew no prose 
written by Home but his poetry. In England, only Mrs. 
Siddons's genius kept Douglas so long in the catalogue of 
acting plays. 1 

Boaden discovered that it was the civilising influence of 
the University that caused Mrs. Siddons to be so much admired 
in Edinburgh "the neighbourhood of learning is always 
friendly to taste." Very likely, he was right. She was 
welcomed into Edinburgh's best society. On her first visit, she 
made the acquaintance of Hume, Blair, Home, Mackenzie, and 
Beattie. On later occasions, she met Henry Erskine, and was 
the guest of the Great Unknown. 

When she began to act before a Scots audience she was 
chagrined by its impassivity. " Stupid people, stupid people ! " 
she involuntarily murmured, on the stage. Afterwards, she 
used to amuse London friends by describing how, at last, as 
Belvidera, she nerved herself for one tremendous effort, as who 
should say, Logs, if you cannot rise to that, I despair of you! 
At the conclusion of the passage, and as she paused, exhausted, 
for breath, the comfortless silence was thawed by a voice 
saying, " That's no bad ! " which opened the floodgates of 
laughter, and of loud and long applause. After this, Edinburgh 
audiences wallowed in responsiveness. Tears and groans rent 
the theatre, and gentlemen, as well as ladies, fell into fits. To 
the actress, these physical tributes were in her top-window 
language the ' public marks ' of the ' gratifying suffrages ' of 
her ' northern friends.' 

1 No better criticism of Douglas exists than is to be found in a letter, in Mr. J. 
H. Leigh's Collection, from Garrick to Lord Bute, July loth, 1756, included in Some 
Unpublished Letters of David Garrick, Edited by George Pierce Baker, Boston, 
1907. 



HER STARRING EXPERIENCES in 

With her first Edinburgh Manager, John Jackson, Mrs. 
Siddons's relations were less rosy. Her acting brought in big 
receipts, but so much of the stream poured solely into her pocket 
that, at the end of the engagement, Jackson, who was lessee as 
well as Manager, found he had made a bad speculation. After 
he had agreed to the star's original terms, ' a leading person in 
the Parliament House ' started a 200 subscription, as to the 
destination of which Manager and actress disagreed, and, 
though Mr. and Mrs. Siddons insisted on an arrangement more 
favourable to themselves than the first proposed, on account of 
this assistance to the Manager, eventually the 200 subscription 
found its way into the Siddons bank balance, as a separate 
item. 

In 1788, Mrs. Siddons again brought Jackson ill luck, 
though, this time, the fault lay solely with some turbulent limbs 
of the law who would not suffer the parts of Jaffier and Pierre, in 
Venice Preserved, to be cast according to Jackson's managerial 
judgment. 1 By 1790, Jackson was involved in difficulties, 
'connected with his great expense in the engagement of the 
principal London performers.' From 1791 to 1800, Stephen 
Kemble leased the Theatre Royal. A good deal later, we shall 
find Mrs. Siddons acting there under the Management of her 
son, Henry, who became lessee in 1809, partly in consequence 
of his marriage with the actor-dramatist, Charles Murray's, 
daughter. Sir Walter Scott had been anxious to see Henry 
Siddons lessee and Manager. He knew the family interest 
would bring his friend, Kemble, as well as Kemble's diviner 
sister, oftener to Scotland. He purchased a share in the 
concern, and became one of the acting trustees for the general 
body of proprietors. 

Mrs. Siddons was an indefatigable tourer. In August, 1795, 
she told Whalley she had travelled, on tour, that summer, 
nearly nine hundred miles. It was mentioned as a great feat 
that, in 1784, she acted in London, Bath, and Reading, within 
four days, and, in estimating her rarely remitted labours, the 
fatigue and discomforts of moving from place to place by stage 
coach are an element not to be overlooked. 

1 "Mrs. Siddons's performances were suspended for a whole week." Genest, 
vii. 129. 



112 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

"Here I am," she writes, in May, 1796, "sitting close in 
a little dark room, in a little wretched inn, in a little poking 
village called Newport Pagnell. I am on my way to Manchester, 
where I am to act for a fortnight; from whence I am to be 
whirled to Liverpool, there to do the same. From thence I 
skim away to York and Leeds." 

LJnbeautiful Leeds she called, by the way, the dirtiest, 
most disagreeable town 'in His Majesty's dominions, God 
bless him.' Most years she played two or three weeks' 
engagement round Wilkinson's Yorkshire circuit. She told 
Whalley that, six months before she reached York, all the 
boxes were taken. Wilkinson gave her the highest stage 
character : 

" She never heeds trouble if truly indisposed, and possible 
to rise from her bed, she is certain in her duty to the public. 
She has not known until she arrived at York, what play she 
was first to appear in, or what characters she was to act during 
a course of six plays. If a dress has not arrived in time by 
the carriers, she sometimes has asked what was to play such 
a night ; never saying such a play will do better than another, 
or such a part would be too fatiguing." 

She played at Plymouth, Exeter, Bath, Birmingham ; at 
Liverpool, at Manchester, at Glasgow, at Belfast. 1 Wide 
was her parish, and houses far asunder, but, everywhere, was 
Tom Tidler's ground, and, at home, there were five or six 
mouths looking up to be fed. Mrs. Siddons could make as 
much in two months on tour as in the entire winter (not 
counting her benefits) in London. 

It was impossible that the star should always find herself 
well supported in country theatres. A propos, her daughter, 
Sally, aet. 23, wrote, on one occasion, from Cheltenham, to 
Sally Bird, regarding ' Callista,' " It destroys all my fine feel- 
ings when I see my Mother sigh and lament herself for the 
sake of such wretched creatures." 2 Another provincial trial 
Mrs. Siddois could not easily away with was the less 
cultivated, i.t\ the less rapturous and prolonged applause. In 

1 In John Halifax, Gentleman, we see her, in her sedan, on her way to the theatre, 
in 'Coffee-house Yard, Coltham.' 

2 An Artist's Lone Story > 50. 



HER STARRING EXPERIENCES 113 

her own words, "A cold respectfulness chills and deadens an 
actress, and throws her back upon herself, whereas the warmth 
of approbation confirms her in the character^ and she kindles 
with the enthusiasm she feels around." Could the whole 
situation of the player be more intelligibly put ? 



8 



IX 
HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 

DURING the theatrical season of 1782-83, Mrs. Siddons 
essayed no Shakespearean part. Why she was allowed 
to remain even so long out of the central current in 
the dramatic channel we have no means of knowing. The 
European Magazine for October, 1783, rashly suggested that her 
abstention was due to 'reasons which she either did not per- 
ceive, or would not dare to own.' 

In fixing on her first Shakespearean character im- 
personated, November 3rd, 1783, the opening night of her 
second season she made a singular choice, which it would 
be hard to believe was not her own. Instead of plunging 
into the rich Italian love-making of Juliet, or identifying 
herself with Cordelia with whom she would have been more 
in sympathy than with Juliet she elected to become the 
heroine of the dark and painful comedy of Measure for 
Measure. 

Shakespeare's Isabella is one of the very few women in 
drama who represent principle, not passion. Measure for 
Measure is a problem play. The problem is whether a sister 
will purchase her brother's life with her own dishonour. For 
a similar problem, with a dissimilar solution, Maeterlinck's 
Monna Vanna ought to be read side by side with Measure for 
Measure. 

Isabella's grandly imaginative diction could not, in the 
flesh, have been Mrs. Siddons's, but, as regarded the rest of 
the character the fierce chastity, the inexistence of one 
moment's hesitancy on the score that it is not her own life, but 
some one else's, she is sacrificing to her cloistral whiteness, the 
alacrity with which she accepts the repulsive substitution of 



114 



HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 115 

Mariana Mrs. Siddons was the actress of all time best fitted 
to impersonate such a temperament. 

No very direct criticism of her acting of Isabella is forth- 
coming. Boaden and Campbell both gave a general eulogium ; 
the European Magazine spoke on principle slightingly of 
the performance; it seems clear that not even Mrs. Siddons, 
standing before the house in her serious beauty, first to plead 
for her brother, then to disown him, could make the rigidity of 
the part acceptable. Though it is true she acted it seven times 
in her final season, her Shakespeare's Isabella never attained 
the popularity of her Southerne's Isabella. 

She was too intellectual an actress to be content to remain 
any longer outside the circle of those Campbell calls 'the 
great females of Shakespeare.' On December loth, 1783, she 
appeared in the brief, but magnificent, part of Constance, in 
King John. 

It is impossible to believe that, even in the case of the 
finest players, profound emotion, profoundly imagined, can 
spring out complete and full at a first performance. To the 
merely literary student, so great a character as Constance is 
enigmatic, by reason of its simplicity, and the self-consistency 
of it only rounds into view after repeated reading. The very 
fact that the part is traditionally remembered as one of Mrs. 
Siddons's highest achievements, while its original production 
was, in many quarters, adversely criticised, points to an im- 
personation that gained in maturity, force, and volume as time 
went on. The genesis of a great impersonation is as baffling 
to trace as the genesis of any other work of art, but, at least, 
we may be sure that no great impersonation sets solid at the 
first representation. Kemble expressively termed his early 
Wolsey 'raw,' and Mrs. Siddons 'used to pride herself,' says 
Campbell, on having improved in all her great characters. She 
told Mrs. Jameson that she had played Lady Macbeth during 
thirty years, and scarcely once, without carefully reading over 
her part, and, generally, the whole play, in the morning ; and 
that she never read over the play without finding something 
new in it ; " something," she said, " which had not struck me 
so much as it ought to have struck me." The player's ac- 
cumulating experience of life is bound to ripen each one of 



u6 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

his, or her, interpretations of it. No sincere actor ever ' put a 
part to bed.' 

The character of Constance deeply interested, and, at the 
same time, perplexed the thoughtful actress. She felt the 
difficulty of maintaining its cumulative wrath and desperation, 
in view of the calamities that cause these feelings being always 
developed when Constance is off the stage. 

"Gone to be married! gone to swear a peace!" 

and 

"No, I defy all counsel, all redress" 

are two as difficult entrances as are to be found in drama. As 
a means towards stimulating herself into Constance's continuously 
accelerated exasperation, Mrs. Siddons hit on a childlike device. 
She described it in those remarks on the character of Constance 
(they are rather as was natural memoranda on her acting of 
the part) which she gave Campbell for inclusion in his biography 
of her : 

" The quality of abstraction has always appeared to me so 
necessary in the art of acting, that ... I wish my opinion were 
of sufficient weight to impress the importance of this power 
on the minds of all candidates for dramatic fame. . . . When- 
ever I was called upon to personate the character of Constance, 
I never, from the beginning of the play to the end of my part 
in it, once suffered my dressing-room door to be closed, in 
order that my attention might be constantly fixed on those 
distressing events which, by this means, I could plainly hear 
going on upon the stage, the terrible effects of which progress 
were to be represented by me. Moreover, I never omitted 
to place myself, with Arthur in my hand, to hear the march, 
when, upon the reconciliation of England and France, they 
enter the gates of Angiers to ratify the contract of marriage 
between the Dauphin and the Lady Blanche ; because the 
sickening sounds of that march would usually cause the bitter 
tears of rage, disappointment, betrayed confidence, baffled 
ambition, and, above all, the agonizing feelings of maternal 
affection to gush into my eyes. In short, the spirit of the whole 
drama took possession of my mind and frame, by my attention 
being incessantly riveted to the passing scenes." 



HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 117 

Though there was more in Mrs. Siddons's Constance than 
came of leaving a dressing-room door open, it is interesting 
to be let into the technical * secret ' of an artistic triumph. As 
we might know from the above extract, Mrs. Siddons was 
completely in accord with Sir Henry Irving as to the value 
of the process he called passing a character through t he actor's 
own mind. She, in her more dictionary English, said, still 
writing of the part of Constance, the same thing : 

"If it ever were, or ever shall be, pourtrayed with its 
appropriate and solemn energy, it must be then, and then only, 
when the power I have so much insisted on [i.e. of * abstraction '] 
co-operating also with a high degree of enthusiasm, shall have 
transfused the mind of the actress into the person and situation 
of the august and afflicted Constance" 

Mrs. Siddons's playing of Constance was the highest thing 
she had yet grasped. Her mere bearing in the part was 
a piece of genius. Campbell, who could always speak well 
regarding anything he had actually seen, said of her Constance's 
* vicissitudes of gesture' that they made you imagine her body 
thought. In other words, every muscle and nerve of her acted. 
At all times, she had that Bandar celeste' Romola Melema's 
way, that (as Northcote said of the walk of Italian women in 
general) c affects you like seeing a whole procession.' We can 
fancy the eloquence of motion with which, as untameable 
Constance, she came down the ensemble between the recreant 
princes. We can fancy, too, the regal gesture with which, in 
the third act, she took the earth, as her niece, Fanny Kemble, 
says, ' not for a shelter, not for a grave, or for a resting-place, 
but for a throne.' 

In her last scene, the anguish she threw into Constance's 
speeches about her 'pretty Arthur,' her 'gracious creature/ 
waxing, in captivity, 

'as hollow as a ghost, 
As dim and meagre as an ague's fit,' 

made a high-water mark in Shakespearean expression. These 
speeches, uttered by her, came less as the cries of a robbed 
lioness than as the agony of an imaginative woman, convinced, 
without certain knowledge, of her tender child's suffering death. 
The strong motherliness in Mrs. Siddons's nature helped to 



ii8 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

make her Constance so real and great. Her acting, said 
Boaden, always seemed to need ' the inspiration of some duty,' 
and if for ' duty ' we substitute ' family affection/ the comment 
becomes all the more just. Broadly speaking, Mrs. Siddons 
was best in parts that were most like herself. 

Could the truth be ascertained, the key to the success of any 
actor in a special character would, in all probability, be found 
in certain complexional resemblances, independent of genius, 
between the two, which enable a ready and perfect identification 
to take place. Not that the man who plays a villain is 
a villain, but, deep in * the buried temple/ an actor must possess 
some natural adaptability to certain roles, and not to others. 

Scott could only imagine Lady Macbeth ' with the form and 
features of Siddons/ and, even to the present day, what seen 
Lady Macbeth stands as vividly before the mind as the Siddons 
of tradition, laving her hands, in what Hazlitt ambiguously 
termed ' the night scene ' ? She first played the part in London 
on February 2nd, 1785, her benefit night. She was thirty in 
the plenitude of her saliency and power. Yet, none the less, 
this was a supreme test, and some of the finest brains in 
England Burke, Gibbon, Reynolds, Fox, and Windham were 
present to estimate the performance. 

It proved to be something to which the word ' performance ' 
seems entirely inadequate. It was transfiguration, transub- 
stantiation. The part appeared made for her by the same instinct 
which, in ancient times, combined poet and prophet in one. 

The detractors who had persisted that she was only equal 
to Rowe's, Voltaire's, and Cumberland's showy shadows were 
put to silence. Reynolds's golden idea of identifying her with 
Melpomene was confirmed by all classes of the public. In this 
crucial essay, she definitively showed that her true field lay 
among the high actions and passions which make great drama 
a discipline in ethics. 

We have followed her own account of the infiltration of the 
part into her imagination, 1 and, through Campbell, she be- 
queathed to the public a written summary of her reflections 
on Lady Macbeth's personality, reflections which, though not 
particularly subtle, and histrionic, in point of view, rather than 

1 P. 39- 



HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 119 

critical, are extremely interesting, coming whence they do. It 
would not have been easy for Johnson to say of her what he 
said of Garrick that he very much doubted if he ever examined 
one of Shakespeare's plays from the first scene to the last. 

Lady Macbeth has been only less patient than Hamlet of 
divers interpretations. Mrs. Siddons imagined her a fragile 
blonde, and would have applied to her the lines she was fond 
of quoting from Marmion 

' c It was a fearful sight to see 
Such high resolve and constancy, 
In form so soft and fair." 

Two further new suggestions occur in Mrs. Siddons's 
remarks. She held that Lady Macbeth forecast and intended 
the murder of Banquo and his son as early as Macbeth himself, 
for the simple reason that when, as his first hint of it to her, 
Macbeth says 

"Thou know'st, that Banquo, and his Fleance lives," 

her reply is 

"But in them nature's copy's not eterne." 

Conformably to this, Mrs. Siddons believed that, at the 
banquet, Lady Macbeth, equally with her husband, saw 
Banquo's ghost, though with a scheming woman's self-control 
and a wife's nobler protectiveness of her husband's credit, 
she smothered, and denied, the fact. 

In acting the part, the first great original touch Mrs. 
Siddons gave was her suspension of voice in "they made 
themselves air" the second, her amazing burst of energy 
over " shalt be," in 

"Glamis thou art, and Cawdor and shalt be 
What thou art promis'd " 

an epitome of the play. 

She became still more decisive and terrible in the succeeding 
scenes, each of which she made culminate in a line 

"O never 
Shall sun that morrow see ! " 

"Give ME the daggers." 

"My hands are of your colour." 

Her words were not mere words, but tremendous suggestions. 



120 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

To Mrs. Jameson we owe the record of how, in Act I. 7, 
Mrs. Siddons adopted, successively, three different intonations 
in giving the words, " We fail." At first, it was a quick, 
contemptuous interrogation " We fail ? " Afterwards, with 
the note of exclamation, and an accent of indignant astonish- 
ment, she laid the principal emphasis on we " We fail!" 
Lastly, she fixed on what, says Mrs. Jameson, 

" I am convinced is the true reading ' We fail,' with the 
simple period, modulating her voice to a deep, low, resolute 
tone, which settled the issue at once, as though she said, ' If 
we fail, why, then we fail, and all is over.' . . . The effect was 
sublime." 

At the solemn supper, where Mrs. Pritchard's acting was 
specially remembered, Mrs. Siddons was transcendent, whether 
in the derision by which she laboured to make Macbeth play 
the host, or in her royal courtesy in soothing, and, finally, 
dismissing the guests. The added burden of acting exacted 
by the responsibility of her theory, that Lady Macbeth, too, 
saw the spectre, 1 must have demanded the utmost imagination 
and judgment. It is worth knowing that when, after retirement, 
Mrs. Siddons used to read the play in public, the speeches 
she made most striking were those of Macbeth. 2 

A part of Professor George Joseph Bell's remarkable notes 
(dated 1809, extracted from 'three volumes, lettered "Siddons,"' 
and originally printed by permission of his son, Mr. John 
Bell, of the Calcutta Bar) on Mrs. Siddons's playing, in 
Edinburgh, of Lady Macbeth and other Shakespearean 
characters have come down to us, in two articles, 3 included 
in the posthumous Papers, Literary, Scientific, etc., by Professor 
H. C. Fleeming Jenkin ; and, by Mrs. Fleeming Jenkin's 
kindness, I am permitted to quote from them here. Professor 
Bell's are not alone the notes of a rarely keen spectator, but, 

1 In 1794, Kemble, on the authority of Robert Lloyd's *The Actor, banished the 
visible form of Banquo's ghost, but reinstated it on a general protest, and the ghost 
remained, till Irving unseated it. For an able discussion of Banquo's ghost, see 
Les Theatres Anglais, par Georges Bourdon. 

2 Diaries of a Lady of Quality (Miss Wynn), edited by Abraham Hayward 
(2nd ed.), 104. 1864. 

3 Reprinted by permission of the Editors of the Nineteenth Century and 
Macmillarts Magazine. 



HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 121 

as their editor remarked, 'written apparently on the spot, 
and during the red-hot glow of appreciation/ His method 
of record was to annotate, with compressed observations, a 
printed copy of the play. Dealing with Macbeth, his intro- 
ductory sentence, "Of Lady Macbeth there is not a great 
deal in this play, but the wonderful genius of Mrs. Siddons 
makes it the whole," is a chapter in itself. In the banquet 
scene, at the dispersion of the guests, Professor Bell noted 
that she " Descends in great eagerness ; voice almost choked 
with anxiety to prevent their questioning ; alarm, hurry, rapid 
and convulsive as if afraid Macbeth should tell of the murder 
of Duncan." In support of his initial avouchment that a great 
player adds very much even to Shakespeare, Mr. Bell noted 
how the flagging of Lady Macbeth's spirit, 'the melancholy 
and dismal blank beginning to steal' upon her were more 
the creation of Mrs. Siddons than of Shakespeare. These 
manifestations commenced after the dismissal of the guests 
in her two lines, 

"Almost at odds with morning, which is which," 

which she made ' Very sorrowful. Quite exhausted,' and 

"You lack the season of all natures, sleep," 

which she made 'feeble now, and as if preparing for her last 
sickness and final doom.' 

Naturally, and as we learn from all reporters, Mrs. Siddons 
reserved the profoundest impression of all for the sleep-walking 
scene. She has described her preparatory concentration, and 
how, when she sat in her Drury Lane dressing-room, striving 
to abstract herself from trivial surroundings, .Sheridan came 
knocking, and would not be refused, because he wanted to 
tell her she would spoil everything if she insisted on setting 
down the candlestick, an action contrary to tradition and the 
custom of the deceased Mrs. Pritchard. But 1 A bas la 
tradition!' was as much the rule of Mrs. Siddons as of the 
other Madame Sarah, and so the candlestick was set down 
that she might the better (to use her own words) ' act over 
again the accumulated horrors of her whole conduct,' and the 
house was enraptured, and Sheridan converted. We know, 



122 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

too, from her Memoranda, how she carried with her from the 
stage so overmastering an impression from her great scene 
that, to the astonishment of her dresser, she stood, unconsciously, 
before the glass, wringing her hands, and repeating 

"Here's the smell of the blood still." 

And what an imaginative miracle she must have made 
of that scene in which the once predominant queen is beheld 
wandering, through galleries of hallucinations, doomed, like 
her husband, to sleep no more ! Mrs. Siddons's horror-struck 
eyes, her ' almost shroud-like clothing,' l her groaning whispers, 
her uncanny immobility, even in gesticulating and walking 
about, made the audience shudder. " Never moved, sir, never 
moved," said Stephen Kemble, at the Garrick Club, when 
asked what had been his sister's special ' note ' in the scene. 
And yet there was a frightful energy in her way of rubbing 
at the damned spot, and it was to obtain this effect she set 
down the taper. Apparently, to judge from the following 
comments by the Rev. E. Mangin, she again took up the 
candle before her exit. He writes in Piozziana that he and 
Mrs. Piozzi 

" once conversed much on the subject of the manner in which 
Mrs. Siddons sought for the taper . . . when Mrs. P. seemed to 
think her right ; which, I confess, I did not. The great actress 
used, as it were, to feel for the light ; that is, while stalking 
backwards, and keeping her eyes glaring on the house : whereas, 
I have somewhere read, or heard, that the somnambulist appears 
to look steadily at the object in contemplation, and, in fact, sees 
it distinctly. It never was my chance to encounter any one 
walking in sleep . . . but an ingenious friend of mine, and 
intimate with Mrs. Siddons, told me that she once did witness 
the fact; and if so, in all likelihood took her lesson for the 
splendid scene in question from nature." 

In the sleep-walking scene, Professor Bell noted, she entered 
suddenly. He would have liked her to enter less suddenly. 
" A slower and more interrupted step more natural." " She 
advanced rapidly to the table, sets down the light and rubs her 
hand, making the action of lifting up water in one hand at 

1 Boaden. 





V 



V 




HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 123 

intervals." Against her final 'Oh, oh, oh!' "this," he notes, 
" not a sigh. A convulsive shudder very horrible. A tone of 
imbecility audible in the sigh." 

John Wilson, in the character of the Ettrick Shepherd, gives 
the best collective impression of Mrs. Siddons in this greatest 
scene : 

" ' Onwards she used to come . . . her gran' high straicht- 
nosed face, whiter than ashes ... no Sarah Siddons but just 
Leddy Macbeth hersel though through that melancholy 
masquerade o' passion, the spectator aye had a confused 
glimmerin' apprehension o' the great actress. . . . But, Lord 
safe us ! that hollow, broken-hearted voice, " Out, damned 
spot." ... It was a dreadfu' homily yon, sirs ; and wha that 
saw't would ever ask whether tragedy or the stage was moral, 
purging the soul, as she did, wi' pity and wi } terror ? ' ' 

Mrs. Siddons died on June 8th, 1831, and, next day, Fanny 
Kemble decided to play Lady Macbeth at Covent Garden 
" the Lady Macbeth will never be seen again." 

Mrs. Siddons first played Desdemona on March 8th, 1785. 
It was the next part she undertook after her conquest of Lady 
Macbeth, and her plasticity within the limits of tragedy is 
symbolised by the observation some one made that, as 'the 
gentle lady married to the Moor/ she appeared less tall than in 
her previous incarnation. She was a deeply affecting, even a 
winning Desdemona, and, as a proof that she was not always 
on the high horse, it is worth noting that more than one critic 
dwelt on her ' familiar persuasiveness ' in the earlier scenes, just 
as, in Romeo and Juliet, Boaden admired her ' artlessness ' with 
Lady Capulet and the Nurse. Campbell writes : 

" I never wondered at her in any character so much as in 
Desdemona. . . . The first time I saw the great actress represent 
Desdemona was at Edinburgh, when I was a very young man. 
I had gone into the theatre without a play-bill. I knew not 
that she was in the place. I had never seen her before since I 
was a child of eight years old ; and, though I ought to have 
recognised her from that circumstance, and from her picture, 
yet I was for sometime not aware that I was looking at the 
tragic Queen. But her exquisite gracefulness, and the emotions 
and plaudits of the house, ere long convinced me that she must 



I2 4 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

be some very great actress, only the notion I had preconceived 
of her pride and majesty made me think that ' this soft, sweet 
creature, could not be the Siddons' " 

Mrs. Siddons was well satisfied with her effect in the part. 
" You have no idea how the innocence and playful simplicity of 
Desdemona have laid hold on the hearts of the people," she 
wrote to the Whalleys. " I am very much flattered by this, as 
nobody ever has done anything with that character before." 

'D. L. April 30 [1785] For bt. of Mrs. Siddons. As You 
Like It.' l In the earlier provincial period, Rosalind had been a 
favourite character of Mrs. Siddons's, but it did nothing for her 
now established fame ; she blundered, indeed, in undertaking it. 
With the consciousness of great power and practice, performers 
in every art are too often led to think everything possible to 
their efforts. Rosalind's whimsical and pensive raillery is what 
Boaden calls sober comedy, and contains no touch of the farcical 
for which Mrs. Siddons would have been totally unfitted, that 
being 'not her nature/ but Rosalind's essential airiness, the 
wohlgeboren comedy element, was almost equally outside Mrs. 
Siddons's compass. Colman called her, in comedy, a frisking 
Gog, and the better-bred Charles Young, speaking particularly 
of her Rosalind, said 

" it wanted neither playfulness nor feminine softness ; but it 
was totally without archness, not because she did not properly 
conceive it but how could such a countenance be arch ? " 

Even so devout an admirer as the Rt. Hon. William 
Windham was relatively lukewarm as to Rosalind. On June 
7th, 1786, he entered in his Diary " Mrs. Siddons did * Rosalind ' 
much better than the first time, but . . . there is a want of 
hilarity in it ; it is just, but not easy. The highest praise that 
can be given to her comedy is, that it is the perfection of art ; 
but her tragedy is the perfection of nature." 2 

In 'assuming the male habit,' as Rosalind, she was too 
prudish for anything. Her beautiful stage figure was disguised 
by 'an ambiguous vestment that seemed neither male nor 
female,' and some one observed that she walked about as little 

1 Genest. 

2 Cf. Fanny Burney on Mrs. Siddons's Rosalind, Diary of Madame D'Arblay, 
iv. 309, 1904-05. 



HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 125 

as possible. With reference to a later ' page's ' dress, she wrote 
characteristically to William Hamilton, as follows : 

" Mrs. Siddons would be extremely obliged to Mr. Hamilton, 
if he would be so good as to make her a slight sketch for a 
boy's dress, to conceal the person as much as possible." 

The newspapers ridiculed the Rosalind 'vestment/ and 
fairly, for she played the part from choice, and it was her duty 
to dress it naturally. On all occasions, she was ultra-nice as to 
' the limits ' (to quote Punch 's Frenchman) ' of her propriety. 1 

Though I have come upon no written notice of the part, I 
have seen a small print of" c Mrs. Siddons in Princess Katherine ' 
King Henry V. Act V. Scene 2. ' Is it possible dat I should 
love the Enemy of France ? ' Burney del tf Thornthwaite Sculp. 
Printed for J. Bell. British Library, Strand, London, Dec. 6th 
1785." In many an outrageously bad portrait, engraved 
for the Ladys Magazine, the European Magazine, etc., Mrs. 
Siddons,. in one or another well-known tragedy part, is recog- 
nisable alone by the ultra-long nose assigned her. 

She first played Portia, after 1782, in London, at John 
Kemble's benefit, Drury Lane, April 6th, 1786. In 1788, she 
named Portia to Walpole (with whom she was then beginning 
to be on visiting terms) as the stock part in which she most 
wished him to see her. Perhaps she wished to wipe out ancient 
records of her failure in The Merchant of Venice, perhaps she 
judged that her interlocutor had a comedy taste. But Horace, 
who did not care for the play, and was clear that Mrs. Siddons's 
warmest devotees did 'not hold her above a db^zgoddess in 
comedy,' expressed a stronger desire to see her as Athenais, 
in Nathaniel Lee's Theodosius. " Her scorn," he said, " is 
admirable." 

It is worth contrasting the view universally taken of her 
unfitness for The Merchant of Venice, in her immaturity, in 
1775, with what Shelley's second father-in-law had to say 
about her acting, in her prime, of the scenes in the play we 
should least associate with Siddons genius. Naturally, to 
worship the risen sun is easier than to discern streaks of dawn. 
Of the way in which, in Act V., she chaffed Bassanio as to 
the missing ring, Godwin wrote : 

" There was something inexpressibly delightful in beholding 



126 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

a woman of her general majesty condescend for once to become 
sportive. There was a marvellous grace in her mode of doing 
this; and her demure and queen-like smile, when, appearing 
to be most in earnest, she was really most in jest, gave her a 
loveliness, that it would be in vain for me to endeavour to find 
words to express." 

Though she never played Beatrice, in Much Ado about 
Nothing, in London, she had played the part, in 1779, in 
Bath, and, in August, 1795, Miss Seward wrote to Whalley, 
after seeing her go through some of her Shakespearean parts 
in Birmingham, " O, Mr. Whalley, what an enchanting Beatrice 
she is ! " 

As Ophelia (May I5th, 1786), which Mrs. Siddons performed 
once only, there could be no danger of her knowing only her 
own ' lengths ' as was said of Mrs. Pritchard's Lady Macbeth, 
for, as we have seen, she had long ago performed the tragedy's 
title-role, never re-acted by her in London. She, also, sometimes 
played not, in London, till April 29th, 1796 its premier 
female part, the Queen. We read, and can believe, that as 
piteous Ophelia she was no mere dishevelled ballad-singer, but 
made the utmost of the character, and gave peculiar tragic 
power to the c rue for you ' addressed to Queen Gertrude. 
Earlier in the scene, her look and gesture so electrified the 
Queen, when she seized her arm, that the startled lady, Mrs. 
Hopkins, old stager though she was, forgot her words. Players, 
as we saw in the case of Holman and the elder Macready, 
remain, in spite of inurement, impressible creatures. 

Ophelia being a short part, Mrs. Siddons reappeared before 
her supporters on the same evening as the Lady, in Dalton and 
Colman's arrangement of Comus. Crabb Robinson found that 
' she spoke in too tragic a tone for the situation and character.' 
It was the only time in his life he saw her without pleasure. 
Even she could make of a part so undramatic nothing more 
than a recitation, so far comparable to Collins's Ode on the 
Passions, which she gave after King Henry the Eighth^ on 
March 26th, 1792, and Robert Merry's Britannia's Ode, which 
she several times recited, on George Ill's restoration to sanity 
in 1789, dressed as Britannia, and seating herself, at the close, 
in the attitude of ' La Belle Stuart ' on the penny. 



HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 127 

Turning to Boaden for his notice of Imogen, first essayed by 
Mrs. Siddons for her earlier benefit in 1787 (January 29th), 
we find him heavily rapturous. It is doubtful, all the same, 
whether she made the part saisissant. Imogen is handicapped 
by her story, for, without venturing so far as to term Cymbeline 
but for Imogen one of Shakespeare's failures, it may be 
permitted to call to mind that Matthew Arnold styled it (in 
conversation) ' an odd, broken-backed sort of a thing.' 

It might have been expected that Shakespeare's great filial 
part, Cordelia, a character more hallowed, and more human, 
than Isabella, would have appealed both to Mrs. Siddons's 
taste and genius. Campbell, however, relates that she spoke 
of it to him as 'a secondary part,' and said she should not 
have played it but for strengthening her brother's Lear. It is 
to be feared that even Mrs. Siddons estimated a part largely 
by the number of its entrances. I can find no adequate notices 
of her Cordelia. She first played it for her benefit of 
January 2ist, 1788. The part had never been popular with 
eigteenth-century people. They held it 'a character of no 
great power.' Mrs. Siddons's Cordelia, it should be remem- 
bered, was the degenerate princess of Nahum Tate (of Messrs. 
Tate and Brady, Dry Psalters). 

Descending to a lower platform, Mrs. Siddons acted, at 
Kemble's benefit, on March I3th, 1788, Katharine, in Garrick's 
condensation of The Taming of the Shrew, but she made little 
impression as the too easily subdued termagant. Of what 
great impression is the part, indeed, capable? 

For her own benefit, May 5th, 1788, All for Love, Dryden's 
noble imitation of Antony and Cleopatra, was revived, with 
Mrs. Siddons as the heroine Byron calls * coquettish to the last, 
as well with the asp as with Antony.' Once or twice, Kemble 
asked her to play Shakespeare's Cleopatra, but, for what 
Genest thought 'a very foolish reason,' she always declined. 
Her reason was, at least, a characteristic one, viz., that 
she should hate herself if she should play the part as it ought 
to be played. 

When Johnson, in his historic interview with her, asked 
her * which of Shakespeare's characters she was most pleased 
with,' she answered that ' she thought the character of Catherine 



128 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

in Henry the Eighth the most natural,' and the Sage coincided. 
With her assumption of Shakespeare's last-written female part, 
on November 25th, 1788, we first feel conscious of her increas- 
ing suitability for forceful and magnanimous, in contradistinction 
to tender and dependent, characters. Physical, as well as 
mental, maturity is becoming, indeed, necessary to Queen 
Katharine, who was nearly fifty, as much as to Volumnia, the 
mother of a man. Yet, taking Mrs. Siddons's Shakespearean 
parts chronologically, it will be observed that she played 
these two before her first appearance, in London, as Juliet. 

Her embodiment of Queen Katharine was no less superb 
than her moral rendering of the character. Much of her awe 
and majesty, something of her fire, are preserved in George 
Henry Harlow's velvety piece of painting, The Court for the 
trial of Queen Katharine, and Genest says that a person who 
had never seen Mrs. Siddons would form, from this portrait, 
a better idea of her figure, face, and manner than from any 
description. 

We may compare with what Campbell and every other 
competent reporter had to say of the enlightenment she shed 
on Shakespeare Erskine's experto crede pronouncement that her 
speeches were a school for orators. In Act I. of King Henry 
the Eighth, where the examination of Buckingham's surveyor 
takes place, nothing finer was ever seen on the stage than her 
judge-like solemnity when she interrupted Wolsey's instrument 
in his schooled charge against Buckingham. 

''Take good heed 

You charge not in your spleen a noble person, 
And spoil your nobler soul ! I say, take heed " 

Since the Portia of her immaturity, she had never had 
such an opportunity for what our forefathers called level 
declamation as in Katharine's Trial. Here she originated a 
magnificent piece of business in distinguishing, by her gesture, 
pause, and emphasis, between Campeius and Wolsey 

Campeius. "It's fit ... their arguments 

Be now produc'd and heard. 
Q. Kath. Lord cardinal, 

To you I speak. 
WoL Your pleasure, madam?" 



HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 129 

When the legate rises, noted Professor Bell 

"... she turns from him impatiently ; then makes a sweet 
bow of apology, but dignified. Then to Wolsey, turned and 
looking from him, with her hand pointing back to him, in a 
voice of thunder, 'to you I speak.' This too loud perhaps; 
you must recollect her insulted dignity and impatience of 
spirit before fully sympathising with it." 

The scene where the two churchmen find the Queen 
among her ladies gave scope for all Mrs. Siddons's intel- 
lectuality in acting. Out of her realisation of the just- 
minded, long-enduring Queen's penetration in seeing the 
snare the Cardinals had laid, she reconstructed one of the 
most bracing of Shakespeare's scenes, in all its poignancy. 

The following description, quoted by Campbell, of 
Katharine's death-scene is from the pen of James Ballantyne. 
We find from it that, here, again, Mrs. Siddons became the 
uncompromising realist she was wont to be in scenes of 
gradual death : 

"... Through her feeble frame and the death-stricken ex- 
pression of her features, she displayed that morbid fretfulness of 
look, that restless desire of changing place and position, which 
frequently attends death. She sought relief from the irrita- 
bility of illness by often shifting her situation in her chair; 
having the pillows against which she was propped every 
now and then removed and re-adjusted ; bending forward 
and sustaining herself, while speaking, by the pressure of 
her hands upon her knees ; and playing amongst her drapery 
with restless and uneasy fingers." l 

Another character in which Mrs. Siddons collaborated 
with Shakespeare was Volumnia in Coriolanus. She first 
played the part on February 7th, 1789, and it at once 
became one of her finest. Twenty-two years later, when 
she was playing it still, to her brother's famous Coriolanus 

1 Campbell, ii. 149-50. I have, to my regret, been unable to trace an existent 
copy of the book quoted, viz., Dramatic Characters of Mrs. Siddons, Edinburgh, 
1812. It consisted of criticisms, most of which had appeared in Ballantyne's 
the Edinburgh Evening Courant, and were here reprinted, ' by the express wish of 
Mrs. Siddons.' Ballantyne (not D. Terry, as Campbell thought) himself wrote the 
Courant' 's dramatic criticism, and was referred to by the Shepherd, in ' Noctes, No. 32, 
as 'the best theatrical creetic in EmbroV 

9 



130 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

in her farewell performances at Covent Garden, Lawrence 
wrote to Joseph Farington, R.A., " The Town is fashionably 
and I had almost said rationally mad after it." l 

An actress whose physique had become unfit for youthful 
parts might naturally decline on Volumnia, but this was not 
the case with Mrs. Siddons, for she made her first triumph 
in the part at thirty-three, when, complains Genest, her 
dissidence from Wofifington's self-denying practice of aging 
her face made her appear Coriolanus's sister. 

The very name, ' Volumnia/ seems to express Mrs. Siddons. 
She was the one actress who can ever have approached in 
outward resemblance to a correspondence with the august 
image used by Coriolanus 

" My mother bows ; 
As if Olympus to a molehill should 
In supplication nod." 

Her noble form, with what Hazlitt called its ' decided, 
sweeping majesty,' seemed the natural mould for the magni- 
tude and elevation of the sentiments Volumnia utters. She 
did not need, like Harvard, to study her attitudes between 
six looking-glasses, it was enough to feel the passion, and, 
because she was a sublime actress, the action followed. Her 
Roman matron was herself, and thus she would have desired 
to act had the play been reality. 

The best description ever given of an isolated piece of 
acting relates to her Volumnia, and, since ' there's none cares, 
like a fellow of the craft,' it proceeds, as we might expect, 
from an actor. Julian Young recalled, as follows, Charles 
Young's impression of her exultant pantomime, in Act II., 
when her son returns to Rome ' Coriolanus ' : 

"... instead of dropping each foot, at equi-distance . . . 
in cadence subservient to the orchestra . . . with head erect, 
and hands pressed firmly to her bosom, as if to repress by 
manual force its triumphant swellings, she towered above all 
around her, and almost reeled across the stage ; her very 
soul, as it were, dilating and rioting in its exultation, until 
her action lost all grace, and, yet, became so true to nature, 

1 Sir Thomas Lawrence's Letter-Bag, 86. 



HER INTERPRETATION OF SHAKESPEARE 131 

so picturesque, and so descriptive, that, pit and gallery sprang 
to their feet, electrified by the transcendent execution of the 
conception." 

Juliet, on our stage, like Phedre in France, is traditionally 
regarded as the touchstone of an actress's tragic powers, and 
yet how rarely has an actress established her fame by her 
Juliet ! There was no general enthusiasm over the part when 
Mrs. Siddons first assumed it for her benefit night, May nth, 
1789, and she never repeated it. Leigh Hunt found that she 
was too stately and self-subdued for 'the amatory pathetic.' 
Any ascendancy over her of a mother or a cackling nurse 
seemed preposterous, and the thoughtful strength of her features 
alone contradicted a passion 'too rash, too unadvis'd, too 
sudden.' Compared with Shakespeare's, her vision of love 
was middle-aged, it was in tune with a sublimated version 
of ' John Anderson, my Jo, John.' Her faithful knight, Boaden, 
tried to champion her by depreciating Juliet, whose ardency 
he called " entirely without dignity : it springs up, like the 
mushroom, in a night, and its flavour is earthy." 

As, during the tragedy's progress, the serious interest of 
risk and calamity deepened, Mrs. Siddons responded to its 
call. In her forecast of the horrors awaiting her in the 
Capulet monument, she was, at last, and then only, truly herself 
vivid, terrific, and original. 

One of the minor Shakespearean queens, Elizabeth, 
widow of Edward IV, was originally performed by her, on 
February 7th, 1792, to her brother's Richard III, but there 
was little to be made out of the character. She could have 
done more with her early part, Lady Anne, or with Queen 
Margaret. 

It is interesting to know that Hermione, first played on 
March 25th, 1802, a decade before her retirement, was the 
last of her new characters, whether in or out of Shakespeare. 
In 1785, she had written to Whalley, " I am going to under- 
take your adored Hermione this winter. You know I was 
always afraid of her ..." but the Hermione spoken of was, 
most probably, Hermione in Philips's Distressed Mother^ which 
she played for her benefit, March 4th, 1786. 

As for the greater Hermione, she could not have made a 



132 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

better choice for her waning maturity, in 1802, than this wife 
and mother part, and she was nobly imaginative in it. As 
Boaden rightly says, it would be absurd to suppose that 
characters like Belvidera and Southerne's Isabella proved as 
delightful to audiences in Mrs. Siddons's autumn as they had 
been in her April, but her Constance, Lady Macbeth, Hermione, 
and Volumnia were no less beautiful and compelling in her 
final season than when first she impersonated them. In her 
artistic career there was no solution of continuity; only, her 
favourite range of characters gradually settled among women 
imagined by Shakespeare as net mezzo del cammin. 

To think of the incalculable extension of Shakespeare's 
influence due to Mrs. Siddons is to be reminded of the 
pretty lines M. Rostand recited to her dramatic namesake 
on December 9th, 1896 

" Tu sais bien, Sarah, que quelquefois 

Tu sens furtivement se poser, quand tu joues, 

Les levres de Shakespeare aux bagucs de tes doigts" 1 

1 Cf. Tennyson, To W. C. Macready, 1851 

" Our Shakespeare's bland and universal eye 
Dwells pleased, through twice a hundred years, on thee." 



JOHN PHILIP KEMBLE 

LITTLE is seen of Roger Kemble after the emergence 
of Mrs. Siddons and John. A few glimpses given by 
Boaden indicate that the patriarch did not lack what 
Mr. H. B. Irving (writing in the Fortnightly Review \ August 
1906) aptly termed the 'rather Crummies-like solemnity' of 
the entire family. In 1788, 'Kemble Senior' played, 'very 
well,' in The Miller of Mansfield at the Haymarket, at the 
benefit of his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Stephen Kemble. He 
was sixty-seven, and it was his metropolitan debut, so 
advertised. The fact that the old man received a cheque for 
19, 5s., signed by Richard Peake, the Drury Lane treasurer, 
on * N ' account, and Genest's report of a banker's refusing him, 
during the winter of 1786, a share in some beneficent fund 
lodged in his hands, on the ground that * he could not con- 
sider the father of Mrs. Siddons, who was making so much 
money, as a fit object of charity/ do not, necessarily, prove 
neglect on the part of Roger's wealthier children. York 
Herald contributes the fact that, "in 1792, Arms, with the 
crest of a Boar's head between a branch of laurel and one 
of palm was granted to Roger Kemble of Kentish Town " 
(cf. R. K.'s designation in pedigree, p. 5). During his last 
years, Roger appears to have lived with the John Kembles, at 
89 Great Russell Street, and from there he was buried. At the 
time of his death, John was holidaying in Madrid, whence 
he wrote to Charles : 

" Nothing in my opinion could be better judged than 
your interring my poor father without the least affectation of 
any parade, and I agree with you entirely, that his remains 
should be protected by a simple stone; but I beg that in 



134 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

the plain memorial inscribed on it his age may be men- 
tioned. Long life implies virtuous habits, and they are real 
honours." 

Creditable platitudes came naturally to every member of 
the House of Kemble. With more nature, the traveller had 
written, on the previous day : 

" How in vain have I delighted myself in thousands of 
inconvenient occurrences on this journey, with the thought of 
contemplating my father's cautious incredulity while I related 
them to him ! " 

As we have already found, John Kemble by no means 
sprang into his position of being the ' top-tragedian ' of the day 
without a stern probationary period. But, beyond and * back of 
the gentleman's education he had received at Sedgeley Park 
and the Douai College, the young actor possessed ambition, 
ability, and will. On September 3Oth, 1783, he made his 
debut, as Hamlet, at Drury Lane, thanks to Mrs. Siddons's 
influence, and we read that, on his appearing, every one 
murmured, ' How very like his sister ! ' To realise the strong 
resemblance, we have but to turn to Lawrence's portrait of 
him, as Hamlet, in his fur and feathers, ruminatory, handling 
Yorick's skull, and poised (as a child might think) on the 
top of a globe, like Moses on Pisgah. Kemble's height and 
size, said Scott, reviewing Boaden's Life of Kemble, were 
"on a scale suited for the stage, and almost too large for a 
private apartment." The English Theatre, on the other hand, 
describing his early performances, found in the quaint style 
of the period that "he wants that fullness of chest and 
abdomen which gives a finished appearance." 

Still, as in Henderson's time, 'Gentleman Smith' was in 
possession of the best tragedy parts at Drury Lane, and 
more than two months elapsed before Kemble and Mrs. 
Siddons in obedience to the King and Queen's desire were 
seen together in parts of equal consequence. Smith's retire- 
ment in 1788, synchronising with Kemble's elevation to the 
stage management, cleared the field, and, thenceforth, Kemble 
almost invariably supported his sister. 

It might have been imagined that she would find it 
insipid and difficult to act with such a near relation, and 



JOHN PHILIP KEMBLE 135 

one inclines to think that the brother and sister, and, what 
is commoner, the husband and wife combination produces, 
in the audience, some diminution of illusion, a suggestion 
corroborated by the fact that few married couples appear 
on programmes under one surname. Fanny Kemble, who 
constantly acted in tragedies with Charles Kemble, found the 
personal relation a painful element, the sight of his anguish 
or displeasure invariably bringing him before her as her 
father, and not in the part he was playing. But the greatest 
member of the family so forgot everyday life in her part 
that she was absolutely unhampered, and, during her earlier 
and middle years at Drury Lane, she could not have found 
another tragic actor as competent as John. 

The members of clan Kemble who were ever seeking to 
turn their theatre, whether Drury Lane or Covent Garden, 
into a family concern rarely permitted themselves the luxury 
of home criticism. Once, however, Mrs. Siddons (in 1805) 
wrote of John's stage lovemaking as outsiders spoke of it : 

" I do not like to play Belvidera to John's Jaffier so well as 
I shall when Charles has the part: John is too cold too 
formal, and does not seem to put himself into the character : 
his sensibilities are not as acute as they ought to be for the 
part of a lover: Charles, in other characters far inferior to 
John, will play better in Jaffier I mean to my liking. We 
have rehearsed it." 

Her determined alternative, not of Cooke, nor Johnston, 
nor Brunton, but 'Charles/ reminds one, in its spirit, of 
Stevenson's Brothers of Cauldstaneslap. They haed a gude 
pride o' themsers, and the Kembles were like them. Mrs. 
Inchbald somewhere animadverts on the 'too conscious 
elevation * of the whole Kemble group. 

John Kemble's speciality lay in all that was eloquent and 
grandiloquent in tragedy. He was a fine actor, not a great 
actor, less * born' than his sister, more 'made.' In 1783, before 
he played Hamlet, he copied out the part forty times; like 
Mrs. Siddons, he wrote an analysis of the character of Macbeth 
Macbeth Reconsidered (1786; enlarged, in 1817, into Macbeth 
and King Richard the Third] ; if ever he felt he had played 
beneath his powers, he would say, disgustedly, " I acted to- 



136 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

night THIRTY SHILLINGS a week." By reason of his 
own stately cast of mind, he made a superb Roman, and, 
though both Leigh Hunt and Hazlitt thought Penruddock in 
Cumberland's The Wheel of Fortune his best impersonation, 
general tradition sides with Macready in associating him most 
closely with the high-reared class pride of Coriolanus. His 
strength (like Zola's in fiction) lay !in working out a character 
in the grip of a fixed idea. Then, he would elaborate the 
author's meaning, leaving nothing to chance, nothing to the 
inspiration of the moment, till, sometimes, the intensity of 
the grapple set his imagination aglow, and he created a part 
as convincingly alive as Washington Irving says his Zanga 
was, in Young's Revenge. " He gave," said Hazlitt, " the 
deepest interest to the uninterrupted progress of individual 
feeling." " He is great," said Scott, " in those parts where 
character is tinged by some acquired and systematic habit, like 
stoicism or misanthropy." 

To a typical extent, he was a classic, as opposed to an 
impressionist, actor. Forgetting Garrick, he reverted to Quin's 
methods, exactly as, forgetting him, Kean was to revert to 
Garrick's. Kemble thought out the flexure of every finger. 
In his earnestness, he was humble enough to inquire 
searchingly of Mrs. Inchbald how Henderson had played Sir 
Giles Overreach in Massinger's A New Way to Pay Old Debts. 
". . . I shall be uneasy if I have not an idea of his dress, 
even to the shape of his buckles, and what rings he wears on 
his hands." 

Except at rare intervals, Kemble lacked power to let 
himself go. Too often, people could smell the machine oil. 
In consequence of too great solicitude, his acting sometimes 
failed to produce the effect intended ; " for very love of self 
himself he slew," as, when, in playing Coriolanus, he over- 
laboured the superciliousness and nonchalance till Hazlitt was 
reminded of the unaccountably abstracted air, contracted 
eyebrows, and suspended chin of a person about to sneeze. 

Combined with perfect enunciation, the ' weighty sense,' 
which, says Lamb, Kemble put into every line was in itself 
an attraction to the judicious, while it gave the unskilful a 
vague conviction of personal dignity in the actor. Kemble 



JOHN PHILIP KEMBLE 137 

showed that he believed in things poetic and ideal, and he 
induced audiences to partake his faith and taste. He may 
possibly have owed some of his solemnity of manner to his 
priestly training, but his aims were high, and, as an actor- 
manager, he, too, with Garrick and Macready, honestly merited 
Tennyson's tribute to the three, that they 

"made a nation purer through their art." 

Actors, as stage history so often reminds us, are ignorant 
of their weak side. Kemble had a strong inclination to play 
Charles Surface. He only gave Sheridan the opportunity to 
tell him, after he had done so, that he had ' entirely executed 
his design/ A player in whose acting there was, according 
to Hazlitt, ' neither variableness nor shadow of turning,' whose 
pauses Sheridan recommended should be filled up with music, 
was not likely to excel in light comedy, and we may well 
believe his friend, John Taylor's, statement 

' ' Whene'er he tries the airy and the gay, 
Judgment, not genius, marks the cold essay." 

In Kemble's opinion, knowledge and study, if only 
profound enough, qualified their possessor equally for comedy 
and tragedy. Sir Walter Scott, in a letter to Mrs. Maclean 
Clephane, best summed up, for and against, the art of his 
friend, ' King John/ as he sometimes called him, or (quoting 
his own Claud Halcro) * glorious John.' " He is," wrote Scott, 
"a lordly vessel, goodly and magnificent, when going large 
before the wind, but wanting the facility to go ' ready 
about.' " 

If Kemble had not been an actor, he might have become 
a more prominent philologist than his nephew and namesake, 
Charles's elder son. He overlaid several Shakespearean 
passages with ingenious 'readings,' regarding the Tightness 
of which, however fantastic, he remained inflexible. He had 
a liking for christening characters to whom Shakespeare and 
other dramatists had given no individual names. He was 
born for those textual niceties which, as a rule, are un- 
profitable on the stage because they tend to subordinate the 
whole to a part. Commercially unprofitable one, at least, of 



138 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

his pedantries was not. This was the archaistic pronunciation 
of ' aches ' as ' aitches ' in The Tempest 

"Fill all thy bones with aches" 

for a zealous public was, Genest states, so intrigut by the 
innovation that the piece lived several nights longer than 
Thomas Harris, then patentee of Covent Garden, had 
anticipated, and caused Cooke, who, one night, played Prospero, 
to draw as well as Kemble, because people wanted to hear 
how he would manage the critical lines. He left them out. 

Mrs. Siddons's son Henry's daughter, Mrs. Mair, states, in 
Recollections of the Past, that Kemble would never allow the 
Henry Siddons children to say ' funny.' 1 "A wrong word, 
or one wrongly pronounced, affected him as a wrong note 
in music affects a musician." Every one recollects the story, 
included in Coleridge's Table Talk, of how Kemble was 
discoursing in his measured manner after dinner at Lord 
Guildford's, when the servant announced his carriage : 

" He nodded, and went on. The announcement took place 
twice afterwards ; Kemble each time nodding his head a 
little more impatiently, but still going on. At last, and for 
the fourth time, the servant entered, and said, ' Mrs. Kemble 
says, sir, she has the rheumatzj*?, and cannot stay.' * Add ism \ ' 
dropped John, in a parenthesis, and proceeded quietly in his 
harangue." 

A list of his linguistic affectations is given in the appendix to 
Leigh Hunt's Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres. 
He called 'fastidious/ 'fastijjus/ and ' Aufidius,' 'Aufijjus.' He 
said ' To air is human.' With him, ' pierces ' became ' purses,' 
' virtue ' and ' merchant/ * varchue ' and ' marchant.' How he 
justified some of the pronunciations he insisted on passes 
understanding. His ' Room ' and ' goold/ however, were no 
more than the pronunciation traditional, up till comparatively 
recently, in many old English families. So did Landor 
pronounce ' Rome ' and ' gold. 1 

In October, 1788, Kemble succeeded Tom King as 

1 John Kemble had no children. A propos, Emery thus criticised his acting : 
" He has no natur ; not a bit. But then he never wur the feyther of a child, and 
that accounts for it." 



JOHN PHILIP KEMBLE 139 

Drury Lane's Manager, under Sheridan and his co-proprietors. 
Sheridan's co-proprietors were sleeping partners, and their 
combined interest only amounted to half the total. King 
retired in disgust. He had never been given a free hand, 
even so far as to order ' a yard of copper lace ' on a costume. 
Kemble entered upon his new office with enthusiasm. As 
yet, he did not know his Sheridan. 

While credit permitted, he seems to have been empowered 
to run the theatre according to his views. In what would 
nowadays be thought a palaeolithic way, he liked to see 
classics picturesquely mounted, and, when he played Brutus 
or Coriolanus, he even aimed in spite of skimpy togas 
at something doing duty for an 'archaeological revival.' He 
was, however gropingly, the forerunner of Charles Kean, 
and first of the moderns. 

Garrick's Drury, architecturally condemned, was pulled 
down in 1791, and Sheridan's new theatre, double the size, 
capable of holding 361 1 people, vast, impracticable, unfinished, 
was opened in 1794. Shortly after, Mrs. Siddons described 
the new building Henry Holland's as 'a wilderness of a 
place.' She was finding it necessary to magnify and under- 
line gestures, voice, and facial expression to suit it. Before 
the closing of the earlier house, Kemble presented The 
Tempest, with, according to contemporary notions, 'extra- 
ordinary magnificence.' 

Among serious critics there was much head-shaking over 
Kemble's zeal for 

"those gilt gauds men-children swarm to see." 

Boaden says the actors, as a matter of course, foresaw 
that spectacular staging would subordinate the importance 
and prestige of acting. One wonders what they would have 
said in a day when Shakespeare is deemed scarcely pre- 
sentable unless helped out with lurid sunsets, classic 
architecture, running waterfalls, horses, a donkey, or a wolf- 
hound, when in vain Mr. Gordon Craig seeks to persuade a 
coarsened public that the thing needful is not scenery, but 
a scene, suggestive, undiverting, designed, not to ' give reality ' 
for theatrical illusion can only be established through 



140 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

feeling but to spare long passages of description. If we 
could see Mrs. Siddons acting in a bare hall, who can 
suppose but that, in three minutes, we should be heedless 
of the absence of 'scenery'? Boaden unhesitatingly states 
to moderns the remark must seem the acme of quaintness 
that Kemble and his sister never proved themselves such 
transcendent actors as when they made good their ascendancy 
over " accompaniments that would have rendered feebler 
merits contemptible." 

The Sheridan-Kemble-Siddons constellation may have 
been, as was said, 'the greatest variety of talent ever seen 
combined into one dramatic company/ but, like Lord 
Grenville's All the Talents, it did not contain the elements 
of permanence. In 1796, sickened with Sheridan's non- 
payments and evasions, and the consequent exasperation 
and disorder behind the curtain, Kemble threw up his 
Managership, and was succeeded in it by Wroughton, who, 
in 1798, on his intended retirement from the stage, gave 
place to James Aickin. For the 1800-1 season, Kemble 
again took up managerial duties, in the idea of purchasing, 
together with Mrs. Siddons, into the property, but, owing 
to some uncertainty in the title, the negotiations came to 
nothing. Kemble, instead, purchased, in 1802, a sixth share 
(William Lewis, the comedian's) of Covent Garden Theatre, 
paying, with the help of his friend, Heathcote, 10,000 
down towards the 23,000 he was to be charged for it. He 
took a year's holiday for foreign travel between his Drury 
Lane period and his new responsibilities. At the time of 
his leaving Drury Lane, his salary, as actor and Manager, 
was, nominally, 56, 143. a week. At Covent Garden, it 
was, independently of his proprietary interest, 36 a week. 

Both Kemble and Mrs. Siddons now definitively quitted 
the House of Garrick, and, from the autumn of 1803 onwards, 
made Covent Garden their habitat, till each, in turn, bade 
farewell to the public from its boards. Kemble's income from 
Covent Garden, including his proprietary share, acting, and 
management, has been estimated as 2500 per annum. I 
have not been able to ascertain whether Mrs. Siddons, before 
quitting Drury Lane, received all her much-mentioned arrears 



JOHN PHILIP KEMBLE 141 

of pay from Sheridan. Into that second ' drowning gulph,' 
Covent Garden Theatre, she now put no capital, though, 
when Kemble went into the proprietorship, Mr. Siddons was, 
at first, mentioned, as likely to buy an additional share. 

The curse of Sheridan seemed to follow Kemble from 
t'other house, for, when, on September 2Oth, 1808, Covent 
Garden Theatre became 'well alight, 5 and, in under three 
hours, the interior was destroyed, with all its contents, 
including the jewels and lace fine, curious, unreplaceable 
which Mrs. Siddons had been collecting for thirty years, 1 
the cause of the fire was believed to have been the smouldering 
wadding of a musket, let off in Sheridan's Pizarro. The loss 
of property was estimated at ;i 50,000. Kemble rebuilt his 
house in less than a year, the company acting during the 
interim, first, at the Opera House then called 'the King's 
Theatre ' and, after, at the Haymarket Theatre. 

Kemble made a justifiable choice when he married the 
widow Brereton, nee Priscilla Hopkins. She was an active, 
garrulous little woman whose ' Priscilla ' her husband shortened 
into 'Pop,' and the late Mrs. Mair remembered that, in 1822, 
the ever laborious John could not start on a short Italian tour 
without studying grammar, dictionary, Dante, and Tasso 
beforehand, with the result that grammarless ' Pop ' made 
the waiters understand when he could do nothing. 

Aunt John, as the younger generation called her, was 
addicted to high society, and advantageously elated in it. 
While Kemble was abroad, during the hiatus between Drury 
Lane and Covent Garden (1802-3), she wrote from Lord 
Abercorn's, Stanmore Priory, to her husband's old 'flirt/ 
Mrs. Inchbald : 

" Our Friday Evening was most splendid and to me in 
every way triumphant . . . the Prince [of Wales] . . . would not 
allow me to stand and talked in the most familiar manner 
and the most friendly for an Hour all this in presence of 
my friend Sheridan. Sheridan was very civil, and so was I. ... 

1 Among the lace was a point veil, nearly five yards long, that had been, Mrs. 
Siddons told Lady Harcourt, * a toilette of the poor Queen of France and worth 
over a thousand pounds, but that's the least regret, it was so interesting ! ' Undated 
letter, from Mrs. Siddons to Lady Harcourt, exhibited in the Guelph Exhibition. 



142 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Sheridan is little-minded enough to be vexed at seeing any 
of his performers admitted into the society he lives with. . . . 
I think the Houses I have been in during my Husband's 
absence has been most creditable and serviceable to him as 
he has been constantly kept before the eyes of the great world, 
passages in his Letters talked of, etc." l 

The Kembles were even more intimate than Mrs. Siddons 
with the Greatheeds. In the library at Guy's Cliffe is a 
portrait of Mrs. Kemble, representing a buxom, decolletee 
lady in brown gown and scarlet turban. It was painted by 
the son of the house, Bertie (ll), whose own head by himself 
artistic, ardent-looking, with abundant hair, high collar, 
and voluminous necktie, hangs in the same room. 

Like Mrs. Siddons, ' Coriolanus,' in private life, could not 
always forget he was off the stage. He, too, had the trick of 
talking in blank verse, and the late Rev. C. E. Bodham Donne, 
whose first wife was Kemble's great-niece, used to tell a story 
of the actor's entering an umbrella-shop, picking out a walking- 
stick, and saying to the shopman 

" This likes me well. The cost ? the cost ? " 

If, away from the theatre, he was not guiltless of posing 
what tragedy actor ever was? his manner was by no 
means all stage buckram. He was a kind, worthy, simple- 
hearted man, and he lived (to use Lamb's phrase concerning 
him) in familiar habits with half the well-known intellects of 
his day. The idea of paying his footing, a la Garrick, with 
' turns,' recitations, or any other parlour tricks, was abhorrent 
to him. Where he went, he went as a gentleman like the 
others, never as the actor, off duty, but glad to be amusing. 
Lady Morgan's Book of the Boudoir gives a droll glimpse of 
him at a party at Lady Cork's in 1810. 'The Wild Irish 
Girl,' Sydney Owenson she did not marry Sir Charles 
Morgan till 1812 was the new pet lioness. Kemble arrived 
when people were supping : 

" Mr. Kemble was evidently much pre-occupied and a 
little exalted. . . . He was seated vis-a-vis, and had repeatedly 
stretched his arm across the table for the purpose, as I 

1 The original letter, from which I quote, is in the Forster Collection, Victoria 
and Albert Museum. 



JOHN PHILIP KEMBLE 143 

supposed, of helping himself to some boar's head in jelly. 
Alas ! . . . my head happened to be the object which fixed 
his attention, which, being a true Irish cathah head, dark, 
cropped, and curly, struck him as a particularly well 
organized Brutus, and better than any in his repertoire of 
theatrical perukes. Succeeding at last in his feline and fixed 
purpose, he actually struck his claws in my locks, and, 
addressing me in the deepest sepulchral tones, asked, 'Little 
girl, where did you buy your wig ? ' ' 

The best thing Kemble ever said was his remark on 
Zoffany's picture of Garrick and Mrs. Pritchard in Macbeth 
that it really represented the butler and housekeeper quarrel- 
ling over the carving-knives. Again, he was funny to use 
the word he prohibited when he prefaced a comic song by 
saying it was a favourite with one of the first comic singers 
of the day, Mrs. Siddons. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Siddons 
(whom her official biographer terms 'a passable vocalist') 
would sometimes indulge a select circle with Billy Taylor, 
rendered in a style of exaggerated solemnity. 

In convivial hours, which, fortunately, did not occur 
most nights, for he observed the Baron of Bradwardine's 
distinction between ebrius and ebriosus, Kemble drank, 
solemnly, as became an earnest tragedian, but to a degree 
that sometimes resulted in his slipping under the table. 
His prime of life was circ. 1800, and he might have urged 
the plea of the contemporary Orkney clergyman, called to 
reply to a charge of inebriety, "Reverend Moderator, I do 
drink, as other gentlemen do." Campbell told a story of 
how, in Paris, he and Kemble, returning from too liberal an 
entertainment at Mme de StaeTs, fell discussing, in the 
carriage, whether Talma, being an actor, was as well worth 
meeting as an author. The argument grew personal, and] 
finally, Campbell, in a rage, got out, and walked home. Next 
morning, 'with a faint recollection of what had happened/ he 
called on the festive John, whom he found just out of bed. 
"Ah, my dear friend, I was just sitting down to ask you 
to dine with me." " To meet Talma, of course ? " " Come 
and see." 

Scott loved Kemble for several reasons ; primarily, because 



144 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

he was 'a virtuoso like himself/ and, secondarily, because he 
was an imaginative and exceptionally cultured actor, and Scott 
forgathered with actors whenever he had the chance. It was 
at a dinner to William Murray, the actor (Mrs. Henry Siddons's 
brother), in 1 827, that he first overtly acknowledged the author- 
ship of the Waverley Novels. 

When staying at Ashestiel, Kemble was Scott's enfant gate. 
Himself drinking ' claret by the pail-ful,' he kept his host up to 
an unconscionable hour every night, and, in 1817, not only made 
Scott write noble verses for his Edinburgh farewell, but actually 
criticised and corrected them till he got them quite to his mind. 
It may be remembered (v. p. 33) that, in the early days, when 
Mr. Inchbald rode on horseback, Mr. Kemble was taken into 
the chaise by the ladies, and, throughout his life, his horseman- 
ship left much to be desired. It was by reason of its deficiency 
that, in the morning, after his enforcedly deep potations of the 
vigil, Scott 'socked it home' on his guest as soon as the 
celebrated cavalcade, led by Maida, started for the day's ad- 
ventures. Scott, says his son-in-law, used to chuckle, 'with 
particular glee/ over the recollection of how, one day, on an 
excursion to the vale of Ettrick, the riders, of whom Kemble 
was one, were pursued by a bull. " Come, King John/' said 
the Laird, " we must even take the water," whereat he and his 
daughter plunged into the stream. But Ettrick happened to 
be full and turbid, and ' King John/ not liking the prospect, 
halted on the bank, and, in his solemn manner, exclaimed 

"The flood is angry, Sheriff, 
Methinks I'll get me up into a tree." 

Kemble's farewell performances, in 1817 in March, in 
Edinburgh ; in June, in London were attended by demonstra- 
tions of his popularity. He was only sixty, but gout and 
increasing asthma were serious warnings, and, equally with his 
sister, he was resolved not to outact his popularity. When, on 
June 5th, he played Macbeth for the last time (with Mrs. Siddons, 
herself retired five years, as his Lady Macbeth), Charles 
Kemble, at the close, " received him in his arms, and laid him 
gently on the ground, his physical powers being unequal to 
further effort." His final London appearance was in Coriolanus> 









MRS. SIDDONS'S ONLY PORTRAIT AS LADY MACBETH 



JOHN PHILIP KEMBLE 145 

on June 23rd. Talma and Tieck were present at this historic 
leave-taking, and the latter described it in Dramaturgische 
Blatter. Every passage of the play that could be applied to 
the circumstances of the evening was seized by the audience. 
Four evenings later, a public dinner, presided over by Vassall 
Holland, 'nephew of Fox, and friend of Grey,' was given in 
Kemble's honour, and, for the occasion, Campbell composed 
the well-known ' Ode ' a laudation of the actor and his art 
intended for Charles Young to recite after dinner. Since 
Shakespeare's sonnets, nothing more sympathetic has been 
written about a player than the second verse of this poem. 

Mrs. Siddons thought an unnecessary amount of fuss was 
being made over her brother's withdrawal considerably more 
than had been made over hers. " Well, perhaps, in the next 
world women will be more valued than they are in this," she 
sighed to ' Memory ' Rogers. 

Kemble's diminished income and what he called his ' crazy 
constitution' alike suggesting residence abroad, he and Mrs. 
Kemble settled for three years at Toulouse. Later, and after 
a short intervening visit to London, they took what one of the 
newspapers termed a ' Helvetic hermitage/ on ' the lake of 
Lausanne,' and there, on February 26th, 1823, the final call came, 
in the form of apoplexy, to John Kemble. He was ' blooded ' 
in both arms but nothing could save him. " It is impossible 
to describe how he was esteem'd in this place," wrote Mrs. 
Kemble, from Lausanne, on March 24th, to Lawrence. The 
actor was interred where he died. His statue (in the guise of 
Addison's Cato), completed by Hinchliff, but commenced by 
Flaxman, stands * in the glorious glooms of Westminster/ 
Originally placed in the North Transept, it was removed, in 
1865, to its more congenial present position, near Campbell's 
statue of Mrs. Siddons, in St. Andrew's Chapel. 

Kemble's widow settled, first, at Heath Farm, a house of 
Lord Essex's, close to Cassiobury Park, and, later, near Guy's 
Cliffe, at Leamington. 1 To Fanny Kemble's fine-pointed pen 
we owe some hints as to her ways at the former residence, 
which the letter from Stanmore, quoted above, helps us to 
appreciate. To her Aunt John, who was ' not at all superficially 

1 At both places, Mrs. Siddons, and her daughter, Cecilia, used to stay with her. 
JO 



146 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

a vulgar woman/ 'gentility and propriety,' says Mrs. Fanny 
Kemble, * were the breath of life.' 

When her own hour struck she outlived her husband 
twenty-two years Priscilla Kemble was buried in the family 
vault of the Greatheeds and the Percys. 



XI 
OTHER BROTHERS AND SISTERS 

AS a rule, the Kembles were unusually slender in youth, and 
unusually stout in later life. Mrs. Siddons's second 
brother, Stephen Kemble, alone, seems to have begun 
badly, if there be any literal truth in the legend that, in 1783, 
he being twenty-five, Covent Garden, desirous of engaging ' the 
great Mr. Kemble ' from Dublin, got hold of Stephen from Capel 
Street, because he was so much bigger than his brother, John, 
at Smock Alley. In face, a Kemble, without the Kemble 
hauteur^ Stephen, on probation, 'discharged the character' of 
Othello, but, says Boaden, with 'nothing of the subtle and 
discriminating character of his family.' Nature had been cruel 
in loading him with an excess of adipose tissue, but he ought 
not to have played Hamlet when he weighed eighteen stone, 
and possessed no qualification for the prince beyond being ' fat, 
and scant of breath.' A little later, and there were but two 
parts performable by him, Henry VIII and FalstafT. The second 
he is celebrated for having played not wittily, nor drolly, but 
without padding. John Taylor, who was his brother-in-law, 
alleges, however, that he supported the part 'with a flowing, 
manly humour,' and was, generally, anything but contemptible 
in characters 'of an open, blunt nature, and requiring a 
vehement expression of justice and integrity.' 

Stephen married the Desdemona of his London debut, 
Elizabeth Satchell. She was a delightful actress, the one 
perfect Beggar's Opera Polly since Lavinia Fenton became 
Duchess of Bolton. What Mrs. Stephen was on the stage 
' immeasurably far from vulgarity,' yet evincing * nothing of the 
world's refinement' she appears to have been in life. As 

a player, she was as superior to her husband as, in a higher 

147 



148 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

degree, her sister-in-law, Mrs. Siddons, was to hers. But she 
faithfully appeared with him, and, though in demand as he 
never was, left London with him, when he, periodically, was 
'sent down.' 

Stephen's figure and want of art suggested Managership as 
a likelier walk than acting. Early in 1792, he took the 
Edinburgh Theatre Royal, but litigation with the previous 
Manager, Jackson, and, simultaneously, with Mrs. Esten, his 
competitor for the lesseeship, drove him to another theatre in 
Edinburgh, where, in less than a month, Mrs. Esten, through 
her influence over the Duke of Hamilton (o mores /) caused his 
performances to be prohibited. A year later, Stephen got the 
better of the lady, returned to the Theatre Royal, and, by dint 
of engaging his distinguished London relatives, and keeping 
himself in the background, achieved a success, which 
diminished towards 1800, at which date he left Edinburgh. 
During 1818-19, he was Manager at Drury Lane, and there 
introduced his son, Henry Stephen Kemble, an actor, who, it 
was said, possessed the strongest lungs and weakest judgment 
of any known performer. Stephen Kemble withdrew from 
active service shortly before his death, which took place on 
June 5th, 1822, at Durham. He was buried in Durham 
Cathedral. Of his daughter, Frances, sometime an actress, 
who married Robert Arkwright, a captain in a militia 
regiment and a grandson of Sir Richard Arkwright, we get 
a picturesque glimpse in Payne Collier's An Old Man's 
Diary. 

It seems strange that Charles Kemble, the brother of John 
and of Mrs. Siddons, should have been alive in 1854, till we 
remember that he was eighteen years younger than the former, 
and twenty years younger than the latter. On the day he was 
born, he became uncle to Mrs. Siddons's year-old elder son, 
Henry, to whose son, also a Henry Siddons, Charles's daughter, 
Fanny, nearly became engaged. Like other uncles who are of 
an age to be their nephews and nieces' cousins, Charles Kemble 
was never, except sportively, 'Uncle Charles' to the young 
Siddonses. It was ' My Uncle John, and my Mother, and 
Charles.' 

Charles Kemble started life as a clerk in the Post Office, but 



OTHER BROTHERS AND SISTERS 149 

gave up his berth a year after he secured it, and went straight 
to the stage. After a two years' novitiate in the provinces, 
he first played with his brother and sister at the opening of 
Sheridan's new Drury Lane, April 2ist, 1794. He was Malcolm 
to their Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Like them, he proved an 
actor of gradual development, though always weaker than they. 
But he was distinguished, invulnerably a gentleman, the most 
chivalrous of stage lovers. His delivery must have been de- 
lightful. Westland Marston said of his Hamlet, " I had never 
imagined there could be so much charm in words as mere 
sounds." Playing every part, even FalstafFs, without the least 
'charging' in completely civilised taste he made an ideal 
Cassio, Faulconbridge, Richmond, Laertes, Petruchio, Edgar, 
and the very Mercutio Shakespeare drew. Macready's remark 
that he was a first-rate actor in second-rate parts is corroborated 
by Sir Theodore Martin. 1 

There had been gossip as to John Kemble never encouraging 
a brother near the throne, in plays containing male parts of 
equal consequence, but when, in 1820, during his retired years, 
his Covent Garden partner, Harris, the chief proprietor, died, 
he showed a weightier generosity in assigning to ' Mr. Charles ' 
his sixth share of the Covent Garden property in jabsolute fee. 
The theatre, still embarrassed by its 1809 building debt, was 
not doing well, but Charles, naturally, believed prosperity 
recoverable. The hope proved unjustified, and the expenses 
of the huge theatre well-nigh crushed the second Kemble Atlas 
burdened with sustaining them. 

Charles's wife, born Maria Teresa de Camp, a Viennese 
dancer, a capable actress, and a minor playwright, might have 
been 'own sister' to another Viennese dancer, Eva Violette, 
afterwards Mrs. Garrick, in that, though sharper tempered, she 
was equally virtuous and equally vivacious, while history 
associates both mysteriously with the Empress Maria 
Teresa. Mrs. Charles Kemble retired from the stage in 1819, 
twelve years after marriage. 

Of the Charles Kembles' four children, the eldest, John 
Mitchell Kemble, grew up to be Examiner of Plays and the 
erudite author of The Saxons in England. To him, Tennyson, 

1 Monographs ; 149, 1906. 



ISO THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

in their Cambridge days, addressed the sonnet, To J. M. K.> ' in 
itself, a diploma,' said Julian Young. 

When, in 1829, Charles Kemble's Management of Covent 
Garden had brought him to the verge of bankruptcy, his elder 
daughter, Fanny, aged twenty, was the Iphigeneia who came 
forward to save her father's credit. Sir Thomas Lawrence, so 
well qualified to pronounce, and claiming ' almost a Father's 
interest for her,' said she had * eyes and hair like Mrs. Siddons in 
her finest time,' that her voice was ' at once sweet and powerful/ 
and that she was ' blessed with a clear Kemble understanding.' 
Still, none but a few enthusiasts maintained that the undoubtedly 
gifted girl had caught her aunt's mantle. It was no small thing 
that, at the close of her first season, Charles Kemble was able 
to pay off 1 3,000 of debt. 

After three successive seasons, Fanny went with her father 
on tour to America, and there married Mr. Pierce Butler, of 
Philadelphia, a Southern planter. Her brief return, in 1847, to 
the London stage, is a negligible fact in dramatic history. To 
the first instalment of her autobiography, Record of a Girlhood 
the best work of her life a great many persons have owed an 
acquaintance they might never otherwise have gained with the 
outlook and family life of players of high character. 

Charles Kemble's younger daughter, Adelaide, so pro- 
foundly admired by Edward Fitzgerald, Lord Leighton, and 
Henry Greville, was a singer of rare dramatic power. She 
gave up her profession at the end of 1842 during her second 
Covent Garden season to become the wife of Mr. Edward 
John Sartoris. In later life, she published a readable book 
called A Week in a French Country House, and two other 
volumes of stories. That she was an impressive creature 
Lady Ritchie's two Prefaces to the 1902 edition of A Week 
in a French Country House would, alone, demonstrate. Her 
portrait, prefixed to the same edition, shows the persistence 
of the Kemble profile. 

The Charles Kembles' younger son, Henry, went into the 
Army, and was the father of a sound actor, recently dead, 
Henry Kemble, well remembered in The Man from Blankley's. 

Mrs. Siddons's sisters, Frances and Elizabeth, appeared in 
London before her brothers. Frances made her first appear- 



OTHER BROTHERS AND SISTERS 151 

ance, as Alicia, in Jane Shore, on January 6th, 1783, whereupon 
Sophy Weston wrote to Dr. Whalley, " How I rejoice in our 
divine Melpomene's amazing popularity ! It is feared she 
will hurt herself by introducing a sister who is not at all 
approved." On the following March 1st, we find Elizabeth 
Kemble making a second l appearance as Portia. 

Mrs. Siddons could obtain her sisters engagements and 
some good parts, but she could not make them actresses. 
They were ill-advised to come to London. For the public, 
they were too like herself but ' as moonlight unto sunlight.' 
The timbre of their voices, says Boaden, so closely resembled 
Mrs. Siddons's as to vex and weary an audience, hearing 
either of them in a play with her. From all other players 
and their supporters the two young women had nothing to 
expect but hostility. Here were Sarah, Frances, Elizabeth 
and John and Stephen were expected ! The then very 
narrow theatrical area was threatened with a Kemble in- 
undation But the Miss Kembles' worst hindrance, as has 
been said, was their lack of dramatic power. It was in vain 
that Frances attended Thomas Sheridan's elocution lectures 
in Hickford's Great Room in Brewer Street. The kindest 
criticism on her was that her diffidence obscured her talents. 
If formed by nature for anything histrionic, it was to play 
heroine's confidante. She was, no doubt, feminine and 
pleasing, and, certainly, the immortal half-length of her 
Reynolds painted, and John Jones engraved, represents a 
young lady with whom any man might, without reproach, 
fall in love. 

That acrimonious outlaw, George (or 'Shakespeare ') Steevens, 
did fall a little in love with her, but John Kemble and 
Mrs. Siddons made it no secret that his attentions were 
unacceptable, and, in the fulness of time, another Shakespearean 
scholar ' came along,' in the shape of Mr. Francis Twiss, with 
more solid proposals. A 'thin Dr. Johnson without his hard 
words,' Twiss was a man of as steady character as the Kembles 
themselves, and that straight and honest personality, Mrs. 
Inchbald, described him as one ' whose integrity nothing could 
warp.' He had been credited with cherishing 'a hopeless 
1 No record of the date of the first seems to have survived. 



152 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

passion for Mrs. Siddons,' but, whether he had or not, on 
May ist, 1786, he led to the altar her 'soft and mitigated 
likeness.' I Francis take thee Frances. 

Mrs. Siddons to Whalley, August nth, 1786: "Yes, my 
sister is married, and I have lost one of the sweetest com- 
panions in the world. . . . She has married a most respectable 
man, though of but small fortune, and I thank God that she 
is off the stage." Six or seven weeks later : " Mrs. Twiss will 
present us with a new relation towards February." 

The fortune, as judicious Mrs. Siddons had observed, was 
small, and the ' new relation ' (Horace Twiss) was shortly 
followed by four others. From 1807 onwards, Mrs. Twiss, 
assisted by her husband and daughters, kept a fashionable 
parlour-boarders' school in Bath. The terms were high a 
hundred guineas, with ' Entrance five guineas,' but, on the 
other hand, holidays were few ( in each year one vacation 
only, which will last six weeks.' 1 We may picture a school 
somewhat on the lines of the Lambs' Mrs. Leicester's, where 
little Miss Manners, aged seven, inquires of the other infants, 
" Pray, ladies, are not equipages carriages ? " One of the 
Prince Regent's nine adopted children, the only girl, was at 
Mrs. Twiss's. " Aunt Twiss's school participated in the 
favour which everything even remotely associated with Mrs. 
Siddons received from the public," remarks Fanny Kemble. 

Horace Twiss's juvenile journal is lying before me. A 
true boy speaks in the following engaging fragment : 

"Journal Friday I7th July 1801. H. Twiss born February 
28th 1787, now aged 14 years, 4 months, 19 days. Up 
too late: got first in Italian: whipp'd up my breakfast quick 
for fear of my Father. Dined with G. Siddons [Mrs. Siddons's 
younger son, set sixteen]. Reconciled him to Miss Mary 
Godfrey. Stole Miss Squire's book, and returned it. Father 
gave me sixpence. P.S. Quarrelled with Julia Willis N.B. 
The dinner was Calfs head, roast mutton, potatoes, and 
currant-tart 

"Saturday, July i8th 1801. My Father not well: gave us 
a holiday. Walk'd with George Siddons to Mr. Wroughton's. 

1 I quote from the seminary's prospectus, as given by Mr. Fitzgerald, The 
fCembles, i. 231-32. 



OTHER BROTHERS AND SISTERS 153 

Call'd on Ma'am Stratt. G. Siddons din'd with us. Drank 
tea with the Miss green Godfreys. N.B. Everybody had tart 
at dinner but me. P.S. Dinner was Salmon, roast veal, roast 
potatoes, and currant-tart, etc. etc." 

In spite of his abstention from currant- tart, the boy grew 
up to originate the Times summaries of Parliamentary debates, 
and to write Lord Eldon's biography, to become an M.P. and 
the vice-chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and to have 
his mots quoted throughout London. He composed Mrs. 
Siddons's farewell address, he assisted when she gave her 
readings, and he was one of the executors of her will. 

It is a melancholy fact that human weakness was stronger 
than the much-remarked family solidarity of the Kembles. 
" Alas ! " said Mrs. Siddons, in the evening of her life, to 
Rogers, " after I became celebrated, none of my sisters loved 
me as they did before ! " 

Like Frances, Elizabeth Kemble had been apprenticed to 
a milliner, not bred to the stage. But the call of the blood 
prevailed, and, in her case, a most genuine love of acting. Old 
and stout and married, she still could tell Macready that ' when 
on the stage, she felt like a being of another world.' 

All the same, during her two or three seasons at Drury 
Lane, she was usually untroubled by the call-boy, as some one 
phrased it. In 1785, she married a godson of the Young 
Chevalier, Charles Edward Whitelock, dentist and actor, of 
Whitelock and Austin's north of England circuit, and went 
with him, in 1793, to America, where they played in Wignell's 
company. Mrs. Whitelock was ' for a time the leading tragic 
actress of America/ says Mr. Brander Matthews. After her 
return, in 1807, to England, at the age of forty-six, she was 
unsuccessful at Drury Lane. She had become a lady of 
ample and globular form, and, in London, tragedy (to her 
astonishment) had no further use for her. She settled, with 
her husband, in Newcastle, where they were highly respected, 
and in 181 1 or 1812, she was acting there for the elder Macready. 
Mrs. Siddons, consistently couleur de rose when speaking of 
any Kemble to an outsider, writes thus, concerning Mrs. 
Whitelock, to James Ballantyne, in a letter (from ' Leeds, 
July 5th, 1807') preserved in the Morrison Collection: 



154 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

" She is a noble, glorious creature, very wild and eccentric, 
not so old as myself by six years, not so tall, not so handsome, 
but in all else my equal, if not superior. I have known 
nothing of her from my childhood till now." 

At a later date, Campbell, engaged in 'scraping up in- 
formation' out of everybody for his Siddons 'Life/ to this 
end established himself for two days in Mrs. Whitelock's 
neighbourhood. He thought her a nice old lady, "very like 
Mrs. Siddons, and the remains of nearly as fine a woman ; 
but," he adds, "she is Mrs. Siddons without her fudge and 
solemnity" [from a pious biographer and literary executor 
this is strong!] "just what Mrs. Siddons would have been if 
she had swallowed a bottle of champagne." 

While, in appearance, Mrs. Whitelock was a blonde 
caricature of Mrs. Siddons, in manner and conversation she 
was all that was opposed to Mrs. Siddons's 'stillness.' She 
used to preface her exaggerated statements with " I declare 
to God," or " I wish I may die," and when Mrs. Siddons sought 
to stem her loquacity with " Elizabeth, your wig is on one 
side," she would nonchalantly reply, " Oh, is it ? " and, giving 
the light auburn coiffure a shove that ' put it quite as crooked 
in the other direction,' proceed with her discourse. 

Mrs. Jane Mason was another sister of Mrs. Siddons's of 
whom history gives little record beyond the facts that she 
lived in Edinburgh and brought up six children to the 
stage. 

Mrs. Siddons had yet another sister, Anne, or Julia Anne, 
born in 1764. The potential turpitude of a large family, 
drained from its other members, seemed infused into this poor 
creature, whose only excuse probably a valid one for her 
conduct could have been that she was deficient in moral 
responsibility. Herself on the stage, and married to a country 
actor named Curtis, while, at the same time, leading a loose 
life in London, she constantly appealed to public charity, 
announcing herself as the youngest sister of Mrs. Siddons. She 
gave an objectionable lecture (' on chastity and other delicate 
subjects/ says the European Magazine for November, 1783) 
at Dr. Graham's Temple of Hymen, and tried, or pretended 
to try, to commit suicide in Westminister Abbey. These 



OTHER BROTHERS AND SISTERS 155 

incidents taking place during Mrs. Siddons's J$rereton-cum- 
Digges autumn of 1783, the unfriendly press made capital 
out of them, assigning them to Mrs. Curtis's 'dire necessity/ 
the result of the 'marble-hearted' cruelty of 'the five player 
Kembles (for the father is a player) and the mighty Mrs. 
Siddons/ 

Her husband proving a bigamist, in 1792 Anne Kemble 
married a man named Hatton, whom she accompanied to 
America. In 1800, the pair settled at Swansea as hotel keepers, 
and the widow subsequently taught dancing at Kidwelly. 1 
Mrs. Siddons allowed her 20 a-year, provided she lived a 
hundred and fifty miles from London, and John Kemble, at 
his death, left her 20 a-year. As Anne Hatton, or 'Ann 
of Swansea/ she passed her later existence at Swansea, where, 
in 1838, she died. She was a large, lame woman, and squinted. 
She possessed imagination of a sort, and published many 
novels, beside poetic trifles "which the bibliographers, if not 
the critics, prize." 

1 See Cymru Fu (Cardiff), Oct. igth, 1889. 



XII 

PIZARRO AND SHERIDAN, AND VARIOUS PLAYS 
AND PLAYWRIGHTS 

DURING the closing years of the eighteenth century, 
those whom Byron denominated the Tedeschi dramatists 
were in fashion. And not only Gotz and Die Rauber 
from Germany, but the flood of intellectual jacobinism that, for 
some time, had set in from France, together with the spreading 
ripples from a new school of English poetry between 1796 and 
1800, Coleridge was * in blossom ' these influences had combined 
to form a taste for naturalism in drama. Throughout at least 
one season, the London illumines had bewailed the unsym- 
pathetic pieces put on at * Dreary ' Lane 

" Too long have Rome and Athens been the rage ; 
And classic Buskins soil'd a British stage." 

There was a real opening for the ' burgess drama ' Diderot 
had invented and Sedaine expanded. 

At the close of 1796, before this fountain was unsealed, 
things were looking so bad that Mrs. Siddons wrote, in exas- 
peration, to a friend, " Our theatre is going on, to the astonish- 
ment of everybody. Very few of the actors are paid, and all 
are vowing to withdraw themselves : yet still we go on." 
Sheridan himself saw that two or three more plays like 
Whitehead's Roman Father, Miller's Mahomet, and Reed's 
Queen of Carthage would bring down his income with a run. 
Possessing, as he did, in equal proportions, the dramatic and 
the theatrical instincts, he put into rehearsal, in 1798, Kotzebue's 
The Stranger, the selected English version of which, by 
Benjamin Thompson, he shaped and strengthened, till every 

word of his adaptation was, Rogers heard him say, his own. 

156 



VARIOUS PLAYS AND PLAYWRIGHTS 157 

In The Stranger, the distinctive Muse of Kotzebue, and of 
everything understood in England, at his date, by the term, 
' German Theatre,' rampages. 1 The play is domestic, tearful, 
philosophic. In Act IV., Baron Steinfort thus addresses Count 
Waldburg 

" Oh, Charles ! awake the faded ideas of past joys. Feel 
that a friend is near. Recollect the days we pass'd in Hungary, 
when we wander'd arm-in-arm upon the banks of the Danube, 
while nature opened our hearts, and made us enamoured of 
benevolence and friendship." 

This was echt deutsch, it was also redolent of the ' nature ' of 
Diderot and the susceptible school. Sheridan threw in a song, 
set to music by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, the original 
verse of which is better forgotten than its parody in The Anti- 
Jacobin, where Troubadour, caressing the bottle of noyau under 
his cloak, trolls 

" I bear a secret comfort here," etc. 

When Kemble produced The Stranger, British critics, to 
a man, fell upon the play. Practically repeating Garrick's 
objection to Douglas (expressed in an unpublished letter to 
Lord Bute) that "the language is too often below the most 
familiar dialogue," they said what may equally be said of 
Ibsen's 'theatre' that its diction was flaccid and flat. As 
guardians of public morals, they had worse fault to find with a 
denouement in which a husband takes back his wife, repentant 
after what one disapprover termed ' an extra-connubial attach- 
ment.' This is a stage situation with which frequent repetitions 
have since familiarised us, but, a century and a decade ago, it 
outraged * proper feeling,' and caused the serious-minded to 
anticipate an approaching date ' when not a child in England 
will have its head patted by its legitimate father.' 

There was, thus, something of the success of scandal about 
The Stranger, which, in spite of bathos and irrelevant scenes, 
prospered mightily. It was sincere and realistic. Thackeray 
explains its charm in the ' Mrs. Haller ' chapter of Pendennis. 
The claim of Kotzebue's plays on remembrance rests on the 
fact that they marked an advancing wave in the progress of 

1 See James Smith's travesty of The Stranger in Rejected Addresses. 



158 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

tragic drama from the representation of action to the repre- 
sentation of character. 

Mrs. Siddons played Mrs. Haller twenty-six times in four 
months, and The Stranger remained what was then styled a 
standing play during, and long after, the Kemble period. On 
March i8th, 1876, it was given by Phelps and Miss Genevieve 
Ward as a 'revival' matinee at the Gaiety Theatre, and, still 
more recently, Wilson Barrett presented it at the New Olympic. 

As Mrs. Haller, we may picture Mrs. Siddons shining and 
melancholy, as in the Lawrence portrait, with the 'toothache 
bandage.' Those who most deplored that Kotzebue had not 
written his play for the security of British families and the 
edification of young persons, agreed that her conception of 
'the reformed housekeeper' was perfect in its 'propriety and 
judgment.' She herself must have enjoyed the part, for her 
daughter, Sally, wrote to Miss Bird : " My Mother crys so much 
at it that she is always ill when she comes home." 1 

Having made this palpable hit with his first Kotzebue 
discovery, Sheridan, for the ensuing season, took in hand, with 
still more gusto, and putting more of his superlative stagecraft 
into the alteration, another, more stirring, play this time, a 
melodrama from the same source, Pizarro. 

The success of its predecessor was favourable to it, and all 
the boxes were 'bespoke' early. The scenery was prepared, 
the parts were assigned, Sheridan alone was behindhand with 
an indispensable element, the complete script of the play. 
Michael Kelly sketches, in his Reminiscences, the agitation on 
the stage, when, on May 24th, 1799, with the first performance 2 
actually in progress, and far advanced, part of the stuff some 
of the speeches in the fifth act were still to seek, Mrs. Siddons, 
Charles Kemble, and Barrymore being the three waiting per- 
formers. " Mrs. Siddons told me, that she was in an agony of 
fright." 

Sheridan, on the other hand, was never more himself. From 
the prompter's room upstairs, where he sat scribbling, he 
descended every ten minutes into the greenroom, bringing 
what was finished, while 'abusing himself and his negligence, 

1 An Artist's Love Story, 44. 

3 Surely, in spite of Kelly's statement, a rehearsal only ? 




MRS. SIDDONS 



BY LAU'KENCK 



VARIOUS PLAYS AND PLAYWRIGHTS 159 

and making a thousand winning and soothing apologies. 5 Long 
afterwards, Payne Collier found, among Larpent, the Examiner 
of plays' collection of dramatic MSS, Sheridan's copy of 
Pizarro, ' with a few corrections hit off in the most flashing way 
and dashing hand.' No wonder the corrections were few. 

Of all the plays of which Mrs. Siddons was original principal 
exponent, Pizarro proved the most popular, in spite of its being 
only a rifacimento by Sheridan of an English translation 
(Sheridan could not read German) of ' Rolla' s Tod! the second 
of Baron von Kotzebue's two * Peru-Dramen! Read to-day, 
the English acting version of Pizarro appears totally to lack 
Sheridan's magic touch, it is turgid, bombastic, ranting all that 
Sheridan might have written another Critic to ridicule, and 
much that Frere, Canning, Ellis, and Gifford did ridicule in 
their skit, ' The Rovers.' Sheridan's life as a dramatist had 
terminated in 1780, when, aged twenty-nine, he first took his 
seat in the House of Commons, but still he depended for his 
income of 10,000 a year upon the prosperity of the theatre, 
and, on this occasion, at all events, pitched on a play that had 
commercial value. Pizarro brought, at the lowest estimate, 
15,000 to Drury Lane. 

'The Pizzarro,' as Mrs. Siddons wrote it, deals with the 
Spanish conquerors in Peru. Pizarro is their general, and 
Elvira (Mrs. Siddons) is Pizarro's mistress. Over against the 
ferocity of the one and the volcanic temperament of the other 
are set the heroic magnanimity of Rolla, the Peruvian patriot 
(John Kemble) and the sweetness of Alonzo's wife, Cora. The 
situation of England in 1799 gave a superficially 'topical' 
character to Rolla's 'bursts' of patriotic appeal to his Peruvians, 
and these c bursts ' were, in reality, adapted, not from Kotzebue, 
but from Sheridan's political speeches. The house, from 'the 
full-price master to the half-price clerk,' rose to ' Our King ! our 
Country ! and our God ! ' George III applauded and approved, 
and, when, a little later, the Duke of Queensberry asked why 
the stocks had fallen, a stockjobber replied, ' Because at Drury- 
lane they have left off acting Pizarro 1 . 

The play ends with Elvira the splendid-creature-under- 
a-cloud being led away to be tortured, while Rolla dies 
of wounds, received while successfully bringing back Cora's 



160 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

che-ild to her from the Spaniard's camp. Pizarro is arrantly 
transpontine. 

At first, Mrs. Siddons objected to the part a laborious 
one of the 'camp-follower/ but Mrs. Haller had proved a 
personal triumph, and ' Sid ' was urgent with his wife that 
her one chance of touching her arrears from Sheridan was 
to keep on with him. Sheridan felt nervous as to her adapt- 
ability to the new part, which, in the event, she magnified 
and elevated till, with the exception of Mrs. Haller, it became 
the most ' capital ' of all the roles originally represented by 
her. In its initial season, she played it thirty-one evenings 
consecutively an unparalleled run. Master Betty (with whom, 
to the credit of her self-respect, Mrs. Siddons never acted) 
caught his Roscian fire when, at eleven years of age, at Belfast, 
entering a theatre for the first time, he watched her play 
Elvira, in 1 802. He was, says Dr. Doran, ' stricken/ he went 
home in a trance, he declared he would die or be an actor. 

The eighteenth century stage owned, in succession, three 
superexcellent actor-managers, Gibber, Garrick, and Kemble, 
and three patentees as worthless as these men were valuable, 
viz. Rich, Fleetwood, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. A 
large theatre, with its complicated detail, could only flourish 
by dint of 'the restless, unappeasable solicitude' Garrick 
bestowed on it ; it was impossible for any one to combine as 
Sheridan professed to do an active political life with the 
successful care of the more exacting * House ' in Drury 
Lane. 

Financially considered, Sheridan was what Mrs. Siddons, 
in 1796, styled him, 'uncertainty personified/ and (in 1798) 
' that drowning gulph/ Times were when such principal actors 
as the arch-empress of the drama and John Philip not only 
went unpaid as to salary, but found every stiver of a benefit 
looted. This happened to Mrs. Siddons in 1796, and, during 
her brother's temporary secession, 1796-1800, she was made 
so indignant that, sometimes, after the curtain had risen, the 
unremitting one had to drive at a gallop to her house (where 
he found her sewing !) and there exert his utmost irresistibility 
before she would return with him, and go on. For the season, 
1789-90, she retired from Drury Lane; again, in 1793, she 



VARIOUS PLAYS AND PLAYWRIGHTS 161 

retired ; in company with Kemble, she was finally driven 
away in 1802. In September, 1799, she wrote, to Mrs. 
Pennington : " I have just received a letter, in the usual easy 
style, from Mr. Sheridan, who, I fancy, thinks he has only to 
issue his Sublime Commands," etc. In the previous January, 
her daughter, Sally, wrote : " I wonder if Mr. Sheridan has any 
notion that she is really at last determined to have no more 
to do with him." 

Something, though not much, might be urged on Sheridan's 
side where Mrs. Siddons was concerned. Over contracts, she 
was, as we have found (pp. 101 and in), a hard bargainer; 
she jolly well saw, as our boys say, that she did not accept 
sweating terms. The following, from a letter of January, 1792, 
written by the first Mrs. Sheridan to her husband, is noteworthy, 
" I see Mrs. Siddons is announced. Have you brought her to 
reasonable terms ? " 1 

Charles Surface that he was, Sheridan captivated every one 
he wished to captivate, not least those who had to suffer from 
his maddening qualities. Lovers of Lamb will recollect the 
instance of Lamb's godfather, Fielde, the Holborn oilman, 
who, as sole remuneration for many years' nightly illumination 
of the orchestra and various avenues of Drury Lane Theatre, 
received a pretty liberal issue of orders for the play, together 
with the honour of Sheridan's supposed familiarity, and "was 
content to have it so," since he regarded the latter half of his 
recompense as "better than money." Not every one could 
afford to take Fielde, the oilman's view. The poorer actors 
thought it werry 'ard that, at Christmas Eve and Christmas 
Day rehearsals, in contrast to Garrick, who, on these occasions, 
had always allowed 'a comfortable cold collation' and drink- 
ables, Sheridan, the great diner-out of his generation, did not 
stand them a single glass of beer. James Smith related how 
Delpini, the clown, was goaded by non-payment into telling 
Sheridan plainly what an honest fellow thought of him, 2 and 
Miss Constance Hill, in her pleasant volume, The House in 
St. Martin's Street, narrates, from the previously unpublished 

1 Sheridan, by W. Fraser Rae, ii. 143, 1896. 

2 Cf. Grimaldi's story of Sheridan, Life and Times oj Frederick Reynolds, ii. 
231-33. 

II 



1 62 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

journal-letters of Susan Burney, a better story, which she 
permits me to quote. The scene is laid at Dr. Burney's 

" ' Indeed, Mr. Sheridan he use me very ill/ cries 
Pacchierotti. ' I assure you I have a great will . . . voglia 
come si dice?' 

" ' A great mind! said I. 

" ' A great mind to call him Rascal. He provoke me too 
much ! . . . I will write him a note.' 

" Accordingly he took from his pocket a bit of paper, and 
wrote the following lines : 

" ' Pacchierotti sends his comp ts . to Mr. Sheridan, and is 
very displeased to be obliged to call him Rascal but his 
conduct is in everything so irregular he can give no better 

title to so great Breaker of his Word. D n him and 

his way of thinking, which I wish it may bring him to the 
Gallows.'" 

But the opera singer never sent this 'incendiary letter/ 
and Sheridan continued, according to Mrs. Thrale's mot, to grow 
' fat like Heliogabalus on the tongues of nightingales.' 

There is * no pause i' the leading' of contemporary opinion 
as to Sheridan's moral irresponsibility. It is unanimous. For 
a last touch of it, we may take what Campbell told Moore 
as to there having been found, at Sheridan's death, " an immense 
heap of letters, which he had taken charge of to frank, from 
poor husbands to wives, fathers to children, etc." Some one 
has yet to arise who will whitewash Sheridan's character, and 
make a satisfactory job of it. 

' Sheri ' (as his first wife, in her letters, wrote it) was always 
readier at accepting responsibilities than at working them off. 
Whenever anything in the nature of a claim was magnanimously 
presented to his Keltic imagination he acted decisively in 
response. The instance of his immediately paying a trades- 
man when he proffered his bill as a debt of honour is 
symptomatic. 

After Shakespeare's plays, The School for Scandal and 
The Rivals continue to be the nation's favourite dramatic 
classics, growing, not diminishing, in both popular and critical 
esteem. Granted that Sheridan 'played the sedulous ape' 
to Buckingham, Farquhar, and Congreve, that he was not 



VARIOUS PLAYS AND PLAYWRIGHTS 163 

a dramatist accustomed (in Mr. Archer's phrase) to think in 
terms of character, that he exhibited a gentlewoman guilty 
of malapropisms which would have been flagrant in the 
milliner who supplied her with caps, that he made his clowns 
(as, in The Critic, he whimsically acknowledged) scarcely less 
elaborately pungent than his fine gentlemen. When all is 
said, his two great comedies hold their own round the world, 
as an eternal demonstration that wit is not the exclusive 
property of the Latin races. The School for Scandal tingles 
with wit more many-faceted than exists elsewhere throughout 
the range of Weltlitteratur* in as small compass. 

Resembling Burke, in being un homme de rien simply 
'standing on his head' Sheridan, like Burke, rose to a 
distinguished position in public esteem, while, socially, he rose 
still higher, his character and advancement, in combination, 
reminding us of Disraeli rather than of the more illustrious 
Irishman, Sheridan's contemporary. The fact that he was, 
at once, managing proprietor of Drury Lane and a Minister of 
the Crown is, to a modern imagination, in itself piquant. 
That he never rose high in office was largely due to the 
fact of the long Tory ascendancy which covered most of his 
political life. Except to readers of history, his name, as 
occurring in public affairs, is best remembered by the tradition 
of the florid in the end, futile speeches he delivered on the 
charge concerning the Begums of Oude, in the first year of 
the greatest state trial since Charles I's. His best memorial, 
in his public capacity, is that in those venal days, he, who 
had not inherited a shilling, could justly boast 'an un- 
purchasable mind.' 

Next after wit, tact was the ' note ' of his utterances. His 
good taste in personal reference was never better shown than 
when, in 1787, he was entrusted with the task of making such 
an amende to ' Princess Fitz ' in the House as should pacify 
feelings outraged by Fox's demi-official denial there, four 
nights previously, of the fact of her marriage to ' Prinny.' 
Yet no man's jests at the expense of others were more pointed, 
or possessed a flavour more wholly their own than Sheridan's, 
and we seem to see the teasing, fun-loving eyes, set in the 
heavy-featured Bardolph countenance, as we read that when, 



1 64 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

remarking in a Parliamentary speech that Dr. Willis, George Ill's 
insanity specialist, professed to have the power to read the 
heart from the face, he added, looking at Pitt, that 'this 
simple statement seemed to alarm the right honourable 
gentleman.' 

His lightest quip was the rueful one he made when 
acquaintances marvelled at his being able to sit swallowing 
port in the Piazza Coffee House, while the other M.P.s their 
debate broken up from sympathy were out watching 

" the long column of revolving flames 
Shake its red shadow o'er the startled Thames," 

as his uninsured property in Drury Lane sank to ashes. " A 
man may surely take a glass of wine by his own fireside," 
said he. His stoicism may have contained something of 
insensibility. Levity was his vice. 

Sheridan's is an elusive character to estimate. Probably, 
Professor Brander Matthews best summed it up, as from 
within, by saying, "when he had once put himself in a 
position where he was unable to do exactly what he had 
agreed to do, and what he always desired to do, he ceased 
to care whether or no he did all he could do." With greater 
hardness, and looking at Sheridan from the standpoint, not 
of faith, but works, the anonymous contemporary author of 
Sketches of Distinguished Public Characters of George the 
Fourth, held that "none who enjoyed so much personal 
influence ever did less for the world." Posterity is fairly 
agreed that Sheridan's brilliant life lacked purpose, and most 
of us share the impression he made on Wilson's Shepherd, 
who ' couldna thoh: to hear sic a sot as Sherry aye classed wi' 
Pitt and Burke/ 

Turning to lesser people who wrote pieces in which Mrs. 
Siddons shone, it is sadly true that the rank and file of the 
dramatists ' were with want of genius curst.' No character 
created by Mrs. Siddons has continued to hold its own on 
the stage. Forgotten are those stilted, stodgy tragedians, 
Cumberland, Jephson, Murphy, each of whom mistook a 
procession of verbiage for a play ; equally forgotten are 
the meagre comedians and farce-writers, of whom Frederick 



VARIOUS PLAYS AND PLAYWRIGHTS 165 

Reynolds, Dibdin, and Cherry may be named as representative. 
Mrs. Siddons's biographer, Boaden, was among those who 
came to 'an untimely beginning' in the department of 
tragedies. His effort was called Aurelio and Miranda, but, in 
spite of Mrs. Siddons's acting, and in spite of the author's 
asseveration that ' the three first acts were rather powerful in 
interest,' it failed dismally. It was founded on Ambrosio, or the 
Monk, and ' Mat ' Lewis, the author of that nerve-racking 
romance, was himself eminently successful at Drury Lane 
with The Castle Spectre, in which Mrs. Jordan played Angela, 
the heroine. The Castle Spectre drew great and constant 
houses, and, for a time, eclipsed Shakespeare. As Byron 
sagely said, " It is fitting there should be good plays, now 
and then, besides Shakespeare's," though, as critics judge, 
Lewis's numerous pieces would scarcely be called good plays. 
Still, " tous les genres sont permis, hors le genre ennuyeux" to 
that The Castle Spectre did not belong. It may be doubted 
whether Mrs. Radcliffe or Lewis did more to kindle the love 
for all that Catherine Morland thought 'horrid' and vastly 
delightful. The German tales of mystery were the source at 
which both authors drank. 

It was regrettable, both for his sake and the theatre's, that, 
in spite of his extreme and naif delight in Mackay's per- 
formances of the Bailie and Dominie Sampson, Scott would 
never undertake to dramatise any of his novels or poems, 
leaving the task, and the profit, to other, inferior hands. 
His early prose attempt, The House of Aspen (also drawn from 
a German Quelle), was his solitary direct contribution to drama, 
and this John Kemble put in rehearsal (in 1799) but did not 
produce. 

On November 3rd, 1784, Mrs. Siddons first played Margaret 
of Anjou, in Franklin's The Earl of Warwick, not a new drama, 
nor a good one, yet one in which, during a long series of years, 
her acting was warmly praised. In 1785, Mrs. Tickell wrote to 
her sister, Mrs. Sheridan, her observant comments on the 
rendering 

" I may tell you that Mrs. Siddons was charming and very 
different from what we had ever seen of her. If you 
remember the part, there is not only a great deal of ranting, 



1 66 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

that is in the style of Zara, but also a sort of irony and level 
speaking, or rather familiar conversation that placed her quite 
in a new light. I thought she was very great indeed. Yet in 
your life you never saw anything so like Kemble in every look 
and word as her familiar tones." 

This is interesting, as showing Mrs. Siddons capable of 
successfully varying the large style and heroic delivery natural 
to her, as to all her kin, with colloquial realism. 

Almost immediately after first playing Margaret of Anjou, 
she created the part of Matilda in The Carmelite, a part 
Cumberland professed to have arranged in all its features to 
suit her. The modern 'star' play was already creeping into 
vogue. The Rev. William Mason designed Elfrida with an 
eye to Mrs Hartley's every moyen, and Lalor Sheil contrived 
his Adelaide expressly for Miss O'Neill. Genest said : " If a 
list were to be made of all the pieces in which an Irishman 
is pressed into the service merely for the sake of Johnstone 
[commonly called Irish Johnstone, an actor of value] it would 
be no short one." Button designated the innovation 'the 
present preposterous system/ and when, in 1825, Pierce Egan 
published The Life of an Actor, he spoke of the old-fashioned 
mode of play-writing as entirely exploded in favour of the 
author ' Mr. Give-up-every thing ' writing up to some 
particular actor, actress, or group. 

Round about 1800, several ladies launched tragedies. 
Byron thus disposed of them : " Women (saving Joanna 
Baillie) cannot write tragedy: they have not seen enough 
nor felt enough of life for it." 

The Scotchwoman Byron credited with good tragedies 
produced eight volumes of them. Three consisted of a 
'Series of Plays, in which it is attempted to delineate the 
stronger passions of the mind each passion being the subject 
of a tragedy and a comedy.' They were designed for the 
stage, but, pace the opinion of England's then foremost man 
of letters, they were inadequate to sustain stage tests. It 
was expected that Mrs. Siddons and Kemble would make 
some coups de theatre in De Montfort (the tragedy that 
delineated the passion of hate), but the play, produced on 
April 29th, 1800, oozed through eleven nights, and then 



VARIOUS PLAYS AND PLAYWRIGHTS 167 

(owing, said Sheridan, to the perverted taste of a public that 
preferred to see elephants on the stage) stood stagnant, 
till Kean again failed with it, in 1821. It was over-moralised, 
mechanically organised, palpably one in a set. Yet it has 
beauties, and as a play to be read vigour, that go some 
way to explain Byron's salvo of Miss Baillie, as well as the 
eulogium of Scott, who, while placing Campbell and himself 
infinitely below Burns among Scots poets ' not to be named 
in the same day' regarded Joanna as 'now the highest 
genius of her country.' In point of fact, she possessed the 
idyllic, not the dramatic, gift. 

Miss Burney penned a tragedy, Edwy and Elgiva, and 
Mrs. Siddons played in it, but it was visited with damnation 
on its first night of life. The saving sense of the absurd 
that sparkles in every line of Fanny's diary deserted her 
when she tried to soar. 

Percy, a Tragedy by Hannah More, had every advantage 
from Garrick's encouragement when launched in 1777, and 
Mrs. Siddons and Kemble did their best with it in 1787, but 
the public found it 'sickly,' it had no root. That Mrs. 
Siddons herself knew what constitutes a good play appears 
from her remark in a letter to Whalley dispraising Great- 
heed's, "All the people in it forget their feelings to talk 
metaphor instead of passion." 



XIII 
PROMINENT THEATRICAL CONTEMPORARIES 

BY their original numbers, augmented, as we have seen, 
by their marriages within their own profession, the 
Kembles, only less than by their talents, character, 
and prudence, bade fair, at one time, to block theatrical 
avenues and monopolise emoluments." 1 In the greenroom 
their style was termed ' the family-acting/ and, by the openly 
envious, 'the Kemble rant.' Their recitative method, though 
partly determined by the blank verse tragedies then in 
vogue, was also a manner they adopted from temperament, 
and by preference. The spirited manner of Garrick had 
been exercised in the same parts in which the Kemble 
brothers were as declamatory as Quin. 

At no period of her great career had Mrs. Siddons cause 
for serious anxiety as to a rival. It was inevitable, when 
she first became celebrated, that the sexagenarian play- 
goer an evergreen plague should talk heavily to younger 
people about Susanna Gibber and Hannah Pritchard. Not 
only did old Lady Lucy Meyrick dilate on the plebeian (!) 
emotion of Mrs. Siddons's Lady Macbeth compared with 
Mrs. Pritchard's, but Lord Harcourt, the husband of one of 
Mrs. Siddons's closest friends, while allowing that she could 
'assume parts with a spirit,' held her altogether second in 
the somnambulist scene to the great Hannah, her tragic pre- 
decessor. 

From the Bath Theatre, as might have been expected, 
came the first of the younger ladies whose names were, in 
succession, for a short time, whispered as possible disturbers 

1 " Drury Lane will be in the hands of the Kemble family, in less than six years." 

The Morning Post, April 3ist, 1784. 

168 



PROMINENT THEATRICAL CONTEMPORARIES 169 

of Mrs. Siddons's peace. Elizabeth (sometimes called Anne) 
Brunton came up to Covent Garden for the 1785-86 season, 
and some spasmodic endeavours were made in the press 
to persuade the public that in the new arrival it would find 
a more than Siddonian star. The Green-Room Mirror said 
Miss Brunton was ' the Roscia of the age ! and phoenomenon 
of NatureV adding, with a touch of anti-climax, that she 
promised 'to prove a principal support of the British stage' 

Although London at large did not confirm the enthusiasm 
of Bath, Miss Brunton was acknowledged to be a capable 
actress. She played at Covent Garden till 1792, when, 
having, in the previous year, married Merry, who, as ' Delia 
Crusca,' had formerly, in Florence, been a prominent member 
of the Arno Miscellany set, she withdrew from the London 
boards, to reappear, in 1796, as a star of the first magnitude 
in the United States, where she settled, lost her husband in 
1798, and married Warren, the Philadelphia and Baltimore 
Manager. This Miss Brunton is not to be confounded either 
with her younger sister, Louisa, who played comedy at 
Covent Garden from 1803 till 1807, when she became 
Countess of Craven, or with her niece, another Miss Elizabeth 
Brunton, whose stage career extended from 1815 to 1849. 
This third Miss Brunton married the actor, Frederick Henry 
Yates. She was Edmund Yates's mother. 

Late in life, Mrs. Siddons spoke of Miss Sarah Smith, 
afterwards Mrs. Bartley, as having been the lady next held 
up, after Elizabeth Brunton, as her likely rival, but such a 
suggestion must have been idle, sterling actress though Mrs. 
Bartley was. Combe (who disliked Mrs. Siddons) publishing, 
in 1812, his 'Tour of Doctor Syntax,' vainly tried, by 
ignoring the great actress, to exalt Miss Smith above her, 
in the following passage : 

" The Drama's children strut and play 
In borrow'd parts, their lives away; 
And then they share the oblivious lot ; 
Smith will, like Gibber, be forgot! 
Gibber with fascinating art 
Could wake the pulses of the heart ; 
But hers is an expiring name, 
And darling Smith's will be the same." 



i;o THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

A sounder judge than Combe, Mrs. Siddons's worshipper, 
Macready, found, when he acted with Miss Smith, that "of 
the soul, that goes to the making of an artist, there was 
none." 

Before me, dated 'Dec. 28. 1814; lies an unpublished 
letter 1 from Mrs. Siddons to her niece, 'Nanny' Twiss, in 
the thick of which with one of those abrupt changes of 
subject that so often indicate, on the correspondent's part, a 
strong, veiled interest in the new topic these words occur : 
"You see Miss Oniel has quite extinguish me. She has 
really a great deal of tallent and I hope the public will 
continue their adoration of her, for I hear she is a very 
amiable good young woman." The writer had retired two 
years previously, yet the fact rankled that the public should 
be paying adoration at another shrine. To Rogers, Mrs. 
Siddons frankly admitted that the public had a sort of 
pleasure in mortifying their old favourites by setting up 
new idols. 

Belonging to the long line of conspicuous Irish players, 
Eliza O'Neill, aged twenty, made a debut in Dublin in 1811. 
Three years later occurred the inevitable migration, and, on 
her first night at Covent Garden, she took the audience by 
storm. She was naturalesque and mobile, and Talma himself 
spoke of her voice of tears. Beauty, also, she possessed, and 
the gift of blushing rosily under stage emotion, though, beyond 
that power, her dramatic expressiveness resided in her postures 
and gestures, not in her face. Hazlitt acutely observed a 
' fleshiness ' about her manner, voice, and person which incapaci- 
tated her for the Volumnia of Rome and of Shakespeare. 

She had sense enough to refuse the part of Lady Macbeth. 
The trenchant mother of an Archbishop of Dublin thus con- 
trasted her with her infinitely greater predecessor : 

" Miss O'Neill is said to be more natural than Mrs. Siddons 
was, but to gain no more by it than waxwork does by being 
a closer representation of nature than the Apollo Belvedere. 
Very few discriminate sufficiently in the arts between the merit 
of an exact representation and an ennobled one ; and people are 
not fair enough in general to allow that something must be 

1 Kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. Frank Dillon. 



PROMINENT THEATRICAL CONTEMPORARIES 171 

sacrificed of fidelity in order to reach that elevated imitation 
which alone gives strong and repeated pleasure." 

Miss O'Neill had five years in which to prove her 
secondariness. In 1819, Mr. (afterwards Sir) William Wrixon 
Beecher, M.P. for Marlow, swept her off the boards. When 
the wife of a baronet, she is said to have affected as Lady 
Derby (Miss Farren) is also said to have done an amusing 
ignorance of the details of stage life. 

A shoal of young women formed themselves on Mrs. 
Siddons. Genest particularly mentions Mrs. Weston, whose 
performance of Lady Macbeth was a close imitation. In her 
retired years, Mrs. Siddons had protegees, and instructed them 
(non-professionally) in acting. One was Miss Dance, whom 
the past-mistress warmly recommended, begging her friends to 
be present on March 2Oth, 1821, at The Stranger, at Covent 
Garden, when Miss Dance was to make her first appearance 
on any stage. Miss Dance possessed good abilities and good 
somewhat Siddons-like looks, but she neglected work for ' balls 
and parties,' and was discharged in disgrace. She had failed 
to learn from Mrs. Siddons the great lesson that the laurel 
must be paid for. 

Not only had Mrs. Siddons imitators, but a mimic in the 
shape of Mrs. Mary (Becky) Wells, or Mrs. Leah Sumbel, who 
was so very much a scapegrace that both Miss Farren and 
Mrs. Siddons refused to play if she were given the secondary 
parts. At Covent Garden, in 1788, and before and after that 
year, in the provinces, Becky Wells used to represent ' a scene 
from Two Great Tragic Actresses' Mrs. Siddons and Mrs. 
Crawford but beyond impudence, a leering smile, and a known 
character for liveliness, the performance was only what they 
then called ' La La,' i.e. indifferent, and in every way inferior 
to the imitations of that brilliant amateur, Simons. Palmer, 
nevertheless, paid Mrs. Wells $o a night to give her imitations 
in Bath. 

It was the speciality of Elizabeth Farren, on the stage, to 
represent the well-bred woman of fashion, smiling, adroit, quick, 
some critics said too quick at recognising a double entendre, 
while remaining as invulnerable in manner as she was in private 
character. Frigid in the latter capacity she may have been, 



THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

and long-sighted she certainly was, for she remained unwon till 
nearly forty, for the sake of the twelfth Earl of Derby, a man 
of such quaint appearance that he looked a caricature in real 
life. The attachment between them covered eighteen previous 
years, Lord Derby's first Countess not having had the good taste 
to disappear till within seven weeks of his second marriage. 
Early in 1796, we find Mrs. Piozzi writing to the Rev. Daniel 
Lysons : " Will Miss Farren's coronet never be put on ? I 
thought the paralytic countess would have made way for her 
long ago." All London knew the state of affairs, and appre- 
ciated the skill with which Miss Farren kept her unalterable 
Earl (the phrase was Horace Walpole's) at thus-far-and-no- 
farther point. Partly as a result of having directed amateur 
theatricals at the Duke of Richmond's, she visited, meanwhile, 
in very exclusive sets. Walpole, in a letter to Miss Berry, 
records the fact of supping, in 1791, at her house the Bow- 
Window house in Green Street to meet Sir Charles and Lady 
Dorothy Hotham, Kemble, Lord Yarborough's sister-in-law, 
Mrs. Anderson, and that conclusive guarantor of a hostess's 
reputation, Mrs. Siddons. 

Miss Farren, certainly the most eminent comedienne of 
Mrs. Siddons's earlier prime, had been originally introduced to 
Colman by Younger, for whom she had played in Liverpool. 
She came, at about eighteen, to the Little Theatre (' the Hay- 
market') in 1777, and began work as Miss Hardcastle. On 
her slight shoulders descended, at Drury Lane where she 
became, from 1778 onwards, principally acclimatised the 
mantle Mrs. Abington was soon to let fall, and she wore it with 
the elegance with which she wears the fur-trimmed white silk 
' John ' cloak in the Lawrence full-length, till Mrs. Jordan, 
taking the comedy throne Miss Farren, at marriage, vacated, 
brought in another, less rarefied, type of light acting. 

On the date (May 1st) of Miss Farren's wedding, Mrs. 
Siddons referred to her marriage in an epilogue, by Mrs. Piozzi, 
unexceptionable to use a word of the period in taste. Many 
of the journalists, on the other hand, were fulsome. One writer 
said what was, no doubt, true enough that "the profession 
she has just quitted will acquire a respectability from her ex- 
altation (such are the prejudices of the world) which no talents, 



PROMINENT THEATRICAL CONTEMPORARIES 173 

however extraordinary, could procure for it." Twelve years 
after her marriage, Creevey, after dining, with his wife, at Lord 
Derby's, recorded 

" . . .at Lord Derby's nobody but us. Lord Derby excellent 
in every respect, as he always is, and my Lady still out of 
spirits for the loss of her child, but surpassing even in her 
depressed state all your hereditary nobility I have ever seen, 
tho' she came from the stage to her title." 

The true Thalia of our Melpomene's prime was not Miss 
Farren, but she who, in Boaden's for once picture-making 
words, " ran upon the stage as a //^-ground, and laughed for 
sincere wildness of delight." If ever a human creature was 
designed by nature to please and entertain, it was Dora 
Jordan. 

To Tate Wilkinson she owed the surname that suggests a 
baptism. When, in 1782, as Dora Bland, she arrived, aged 
twenty, in Leeds, with her mother, brother, and sister, none of 
them ' well accoutred,' he admitted her into his company, after 
briefly testing her merits. Previously, in Dublin and Cork, she 
had undertaken anything and everything Daly wanted, and 
when Wilkinson gruffly asked whether her line was tragedy, 
comedy, or opera, she replied, 'All.' Wilkinson expressed 
astonishment, but the protean aspirant was successfully cast, 
one night, Calista, in The Fair Penitent, another, Priscilla 
Tomboy in the farce of The Romp, another, William (" she 
sported the best leg ever seen on the stage," the Rev. John 
Genest apprises us) in Mrs. Brooke's opera, Rosina. Her 
playbill name was 'Miss Francis,' but, before she had been 
long in Yorkshire, family reasons * indicated ' another change of 
name, and one fortified by * Mrs.' " You have crossed the water, 
my dear," said Wilkinson, " so I'll call you Jordan." " And by 
the memory of Sam," he would add, when gleefully boasting, 
in after years, of his association with the comedy queen, " if she 
didn't take my joke in earnest, and call herself Mrs. Jordan ever 
since!" When, one August evening of 1785, as the Poor 
Soldier, she was trying to exhilarate a York audience, Mrs. 
Siddons happened to be in front. As reported by Wilkinson, her 
comment on the performance was to the effect that Mrs. Jordan 
was better where she was than to venture on the London 



174 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

boards. The doubt she expressed was, at the moment, justified 
by the limited enthusiasm manifested by the York house. 
Fourteen months later, we find Mrs. Siddons writing from 
London to Whalley : " We have a great comic actress now, 
called Mrs. Jordan ; she has a vast deal of merit, but in my 
mind is not perfection." 

The day was at hand when, in London, the narrower- 
minded lovers of Mrs. Jordan would inquire, concerning Mrs. 
Siddons, ' Where is Nature ? ' while the duller among Mrs. 
Siddons's admirers would retort, concerning Mrs. Jordan, 
1 Surely she is vulgar.' And Dora Jordan's day outlasted even 
the ten-year day of the Blessed Damozel, for it commenced 
with her first Drury Lane season, 1785-86, and only terminated 
in 1814, when, 'a-tiptoe,' professionally, 'on the highest point of 
being,' she suddenly quitted the London stage, two years before 
her forlorn death at St. Cloud. She had, formerly, always 
talked of retiring whenever Mrs. Siddons should retire. 

In spite of the ' steady, melting eye ' that sank into Lamb's 
heart, Mrs. Jordan's face was not what they then termed ' critic- 
ally ' handsome, though her figure received the high encomium of 
Sir Joshua Reynolds's statement that it was the most perfect in 
symmetry he had ever seen. She had a better gift, for an actress, 
than beauty that of being whatever character she assumed. 

She subjugated all the men in the audience; she seemed 
created to dry the tears Mrs. Siddons bade flow ; like Fontaine, 
the celebrated Dublin dancing-master of her time, she seemed 
to be for ever saying, ' Egayez-vous> mes enfans> il riy a que $a? 
All that was so sunshiny and full of fun in her appearance, the 
elastic spring, the artless gestures, the quickness of turn 
gained value from her humourous delivery, her little breaks of 
voice and arch inflections. She made such words as 'best 
gown/ ' but I don't I won't,' ' I a'n't deaf,' each a whimsical 
miracle, and Macready speaks of 'certain bass tones' which 
' would have disturbed the gravity of a hermit.' Gait says that 
the way she pronounced the word, ' ecod ! ' sounded as if she 
had taken a mouthful of some ripe, delicious peach. Coleridge, 
discoursing, in 1825, at Lamb's Colebrooke Cottage, avowed that 
it was the witchery of her tone that suggested the idea in his 
Remorse that, if Lucifer had been permitted to retain his angel 



PROMINENT THEATRICAL CONTEMPORARIES 175 

voice, hell would have been hell no longer. The best description 
of a laugh I know is Leigh Hunt's description of Mrs. Jordan's. 

In spite of her Leeds debut as Calista, tragedy was outside 
Mrs. Jordan's range, nor was she capable of personating a fine 
lady. She, thus, never crossed the true path either of Mrs. 
Siddons or of Miss Farren. Comedies supplying two first-rate 
parts where she would not have eclipsed Mrs. Siddons being 
few, Mrs. Siddons and she, so long contemporaneously at Drury 
Lane, very rarely acted together. They did so in Pizarro, and 
also (Nov. 24th, 1797) in The Rivals. Mrs. Tickell contributed 
an interesting aside on Mrs. Siddons, when she wrote, in 1785, 
that Mrs. Jordan ought to " make a sweet tragedian, because, in 
Twelfth Night, her voice in the pathetic is musical and soft, 
and she has the Siddons ' Oh ! ' in perfection." Mrs. Jordan 
was far less Euphrosyne off the stage than on it, but, across the 
lamps, no one ever guessed that she knew nervousness, depres- 
sion, or annoyance. In her maturity, she was aware of her 
limitations. " If the public had any taste," she said, in the 
greenroom, to John Taylor, "how could they bear me in 
the part [Rosalind] which ... is far above my habits and 
pretensions ? " 

For twenty years, thanks to Mrs. Jordan, the Duke of 
Clarence enjoyed as much domestic happiness as the Royal 
Marriage Act permitted to him. She bore her sailor prince 
five sons and five daughters, and shared her income with him, 
calling the provincial tours that swelled it her 'cruises.' Her 
dismissal, in 1811, was due to no fault of hers, and was 
attended by every circumstance of respect. Having left 
England to avoid creditors, her debts being the consequence 
of bills given by her to relieve her worthless son-in-law, Alsop, 
Mrs. Jordan died, on July 3rd, 1816, of jaundice and 
dejection. 

Little needs to be said concerning other actresses who 
flourished during Mrs. Siddons's prime. The career of 
Harriot Mellon as an actress was infinitely less interesting 
than as a woman. She, again, was Irish, and the countrified, 
un-stagy look she always retained, together with a kind of 
shy boldness, constituted her charm. At Liverpool, in the 
summer of 1796, Queen Siddons paid her the supreme com- 



1 76 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

pliment of leading her forward by the hand, and, in her flat, 
forcible way, thus addressing the assembled company: 
" Ladies and gentlemen, I am told by one I know very well 
that this young lady for years in his father's company con- 
ducted herself with the utmost propriety. I therefore intro- 
duce her as my young friend." The same bounty was 
afterwards extended to the same actress in the Drury Lane 
greenroom. It was a standard to live up to. 

Miss Mellon was Nature's own Audrey, but only when 
more eminent actresses were ill did she play leading business. 
On the other hand, romance must cling to the memory of 
one who (in part, by her constant kindness to an ill-tempered 
mother and beery stepfather) attracted to herself a fortune of 
a million and a half. She married Tom Coutts, he eighty, 
she thirty-eight; twelve years later, she married the ninth 
Duke of St. Albans, he twenty-six, she fifty. She believed in 
luck, and was born lucky. She was a rattling, coarse, free- 
handed creature. She might have sat to Thackeray for the 
Fotheringay. 

Mrs. Siddons wrote, in 1793, concerning a once celebrated 
actress, " The charming and beautiful Mrs. Robinson ! I pity 
her from the bottom of my soul." Was she thinking of 
Perdita's arthritic helplessness and suffering, or of the Florizel 
episode, and its sequel? As we have seen, she thanked God 
when her sister, Frances, was safely off the slippery boards, 
and she roundly (and, surely, too sweepingly) termed the 
Drury Lane greenroom of her time 'a sink of iniquity.' 
Much though she loved her art, she almost overestimated 
the danger incurred by the maid who unmasks her beauty 
to the playhouse. 

Considering her rather judging disposition, only too few 
sentences of Mrs. Siddons's are recorded as to the art of 
other players. When such sentences occur, they go to the 
root of the matter, as where, in a letter to Mrs. Pennington, 
concerning the singer to whom, in Haydn's opinion, angels 
should have listened, she writes : " Mrs. Billington is a most 
surprising creature, but her talent plays only round the head, 
without ever touching the heart." Mrs. Siddons was feelingly 
persuaded of the truth that if technique is the body of art, 



PROMINENT THEATRICAL CONTEMPORARIES 177 

emotion is its soul. She is discriminating, again, in the 
following appraisement of a male fellow-player : 

"The Pierre was a Mr. Snow (a banker's nephew) whose 
stage name is Hargrave : he is a sort of professional amateur, 
with a good figure, and may do better hereafter; but at 
present he is hard and dry: the wheels of his passion want 
oiling, and his voice is harsh. . . . He wants to play Othello, 
but I fear it will not do : he would be more fit for lago with 
a little practice." 

Chief of those who passed as heirlooms from the House 
of Garrick to Sheridan's Drury Lane was Garrick's right- 
hand man, Tom King, and he became Mrs. Siddons's sincerest 
early friend there. Within his scanty plot of ground, King 
was an exquisite actor. His style was dry brut He seemed 
made to uphold sparkling dialogue, to articulate pointed 
epigram and neat antithesis. In his element as Touchstone, 
he was the perfect Lord Ogleby (in Colman and Garrick's 
The Clandestine Marriage)^ and he shone with diamond lustre 
in the tours de force of Sheridanean comedy, Puff and Sir 
Peter Teazle. He made the regulation forty lines of every 
prologue or epilogue he uttered, in themselves, 'a little 
drama.' Off the boards, he was an agreeable person and 
a gentleman, and at his house, at Hampton, says John 
Taylor, Mr. and Mrs. Siddons and Kemble spent some of 
their Christmas holidays. 

After Brereton's breakdown, the second line in tragedy 
at Drury Lane was filled by Bensley, Wroughton, Palmer, 
and Barrymore. In Bensley (unless ' Carlagnulus ' nodded 
when he wrote of him) there must have been a streak of 
greatness, Wroughton did traditional things in a safe way, the 
others acted 'with much exactness/ as the stereotype of the 
day had it, though, sometimes, it is to be feared, giving their 
parts more mouth than passion. 

To modern ideas, the London stage, between Henderson 
and Kean, would, as regarded its men-folk, have appeared 
better supplied on the comedy than the tragedy side. The 
tragedians were hampered by a formula, or convention, which 
involved a 'classic' cadence in their speech, worlds away 
from the tone of natural conversation; the comedians, on 
12 




OF THE 

UNIVERSITY 

OF 

gAUFORti^^ 



i;8 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

the other hand, drew inspiration solely from actuality. It 
seems safe to believe that a modern playgoer, could he be 
transported to their day, would carry away little save weariness 
from an evening with those orotund tragedians, while he 
would derive an immense amount of pleasure from such 
actors as the gay, efficient, well-bred William Lewis, the 
male counterpart of Miss Farren, from Elliston, from Jack 
Bannister, from Parsons, from Suett, from Munden, from 
Liston, and from Charles Mathews. Comedy, in that age, 
was in what John Bernard termed a plethora of health. 
Small parts were taken by good men, and hardly a varlet 
would go on to deliver a message but was a fellow of spirit 
and intelligence. 

When Kemble entered upon the Management of Covent 
Garden, he gave a conciliatory dinner at his own house to 
the performers who were to be under his command. They 
numbered some of the time's best actors ; among them, 
George Frederic Cooke, Lewis, Mrs. Davenport, Mrs. Mattocks, 
Mrs. Beverley, Mrs. Glover, Farley, Hull, Charles Kemble, 
and Mrs. H. Siddons. The Covent Garden company accepted 
Kemble unwillingly. His known pride and authoritativeness 
of bearing prejudiced them against him. In the event, he 
got on better, even with the unruly and insolent G. F. Cooke, 
than might have been expected. 

Cooke was a half-baked Edmund Kean. He had none 
of Kean's refinement, and knew little beyond the slang and 
bravado of tragedy. He hoped to be the rival of Kemble 
' Black Jack/ who, he boasted, would, one day, ' tremble 
in his pumps' on his account. Possibly, he might have 
outrivalled Kemble, had he combined with his own salience 
the other's idealism and sanity. As it was, he of whom, 
in 1 80 1, young Dermody had written to Sydney Owenson, 
"Cooke is a constellation, the everything, the rage" came 
to be only describable as a drunken genius. 

From September, 1803, to May, 1810, Cooke acted, on 
and off, with Mrs. Siddons in Macbeth, Othello, and many 
other plays, but her opinion of him is not recorded. Like 
Macklin, he seemed formed for sardonic parts, and malignancy 
(as in I ago and Shylock) was his strength. One evening 



PROMINENT THEATRICAL CONTEMPORARIES 179 

when he was to have played Douglas to Mrs. Siddons's Lady 
Randolph found him so flushed with the grape, as they 
said then, that young Harry Siddons had to read the part 
for him. 

In considering Cooke's biography, the constant wonder 
is how he lived as long as he did. Hissed and degraded, 
he, at last, drifted to the provinces, and thence to the 
United States. In 1812, he died in New York, and Kean, 
when there nine years later, paid for a monument for him 
on which was inscribed, 

" ... In various parts his matchless talents shone ; 
The one he fail'd in, was, alas ! his own." 

The selfsame words might have formed Kean's own epitaph. 

It is an interesting speculation as to whether Mrs. Siddons's 
temperament required other good actors in order to bring 
out the best of herself, or whether, with Rachel, she would 
have said or thought concerning an imbecile cast, " Mon 
entourage ria ete que pour me mieux faire ressortir" My own 
impression is that, though she appreciated and praised good 
work (especially in beginners, and in her own autumn), she 
was rather singularly self-sufficient in her acting, and inde- 
pendent of the people around. After the death of Henderson, 
George III understood she 'had wished to have him play 
at the same house with herself.' 1 

Among those who acted with, and were commended by 
her, Charles Young said the most enthusiastic and well- 
judged things about her. There is small need to give the 
outlines of Young's career, since that little masterpiece, A 
Memoir of Charles Mayne Young, by the actor's son, is well 
known to general readers. Leaving out Gibber's 'Apology' 
which possesses greater, though different qualities < 
Young's biography is the most indispensable, and the 
wholesomest, theatrical memoir that exists, completely free 
from banal and done-to-death anecdotes. If ever a man 
helped, by his private life and character, to grace the stage, 
the amiable, high-hearted Charles Young did so. 

1 Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay, edited by Austin Dobson, ii. 343. 



i8o THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

When, on April 2ist, 1794, Mrs. Siddons first played 
Lady Macbeth in Holland's new Drury Lane, under Kemble's 
Management, an aiery of children represented the black 
spirits and white, red spirits and grey, and among them was 
a tiny creature named Edmund Kean. In 1805, when Kean, 
then eighteen, was a stroller, he and his only living peer again 
met, at Belfast, on the boards. Kean was Osmyn to the star's 
Zara, and Norval to her Lady Randolph. As Osmyn, he 
forgot his words, and Mrs. Siddons, guessing, or detecting, 
drink, shook her head gravely. But she felt his latent power. 
He played, she said, ' well, very well.' This was the only 
occasion on which she acted with that unhappy genius, 
before whom, it was said, with some exaggeration, Kemble 
' faded like a tragedy ghost.' 

'The small man, with an Italian face and fatal eye,' 
' Mr. Kean, from Exeter,' did not get his chance before a 
London audience till Mrs. Siddons had been eighteen 
months retired. From the testimony of eye-witnesses who 
saw both, it would appear that he made the same tremendous 
attack on the nerves that she had done. 

Soon the new romantic had his school as well as his follow- 
ing, half a dozen lesser men were aping his instantaneous 
transitions from the hyper-tragic to the infra-colloquial, and 
we may remember how, in Pendennis, Mr. Manager Bingley 
'darted about the stage and yelled like Kean.' By virtue 
of his diametrically opposite methods, it was inevitable that 
Kean should now be pitted against Kemble, as Garrick had, at 
first, been pitted against Quin. Mrs. Trench gives a glimpse 
of Kean's originality, in saying that her children, to whom 
the wailing tragedians, with their raised voices, made Shake- 
speare practically unintelligible, enjoyed every word spoken 
by Kean "his tones are so natural." 

For eighteen years, the prodigy earned 10,000 a year 
and, in 1905, Messrs. Christie sold the green silk purse 
Browning gave Irving, which had been found in Kean's 
pocket without a sixpence inside. Byron committed to his 
journal for February 2Oth, 1814, a reasonable hope that 
Kean, by getting into good society, would be prevented from 
falling like Cooke. But the mania for drink, contracted 



PROMINENT THEATRICAL CONTEMPORARIES 181 

during a boyhood of semi-starvation, proved too strong. 
Added to it, there seethed in Kean something not unlike 
Swift's sceva indignatio> a madness of rage against things as 
they are. One of the saddest letters ever written, addressed 
by Kean, under date, 1821, to 'Dear Jack' Lee, his secretary, 
was sold, in 1906, at Messrs. Sothebys'. Thus it ran : 

" I have been mad for three days, imagined that all my 
enemies had congregated for the purpose of destruction, 
aided by demons, riflemen, and rattlesnakes excellent 
sport; the delirium subsiding, Death placed his ugly visage 
in my view. I have been very drunk very often once so 
bad that I could scarcely hobble through Macbeth. Huzza ! 
boy all fun, all jollity, all good fellowship, but, heart, heart, 
when wilt thou break ? " 

The most recently living actor with whom Mrs. Siddons 
appeared was William Charles Macready, whose hour-glass 
ran till 1873. He and Young were happily associated with 
John and Charles Kemble in Lady Blessington's tribute, 
" Were I called on to name the professional men I have 
known most distinguished for good breeding and manners, 
I should name four tragedians the two Kembles, Young, 
and Macready." 

Macready was a youth when, in 1812, just before her 
retirement, Mrs. Siddons went to Newcastle to give two 
performances in his father's theatre. The most stimulating 
lesson in his artistic education was playing with her on these 
occasions. The Manager's son, as junior lead, was sent to 
her hotel to rehearse Beverley to her Mrs. Beverley, she 
fifty-seven, her stage husband, nineteen. As he entered 
the room where the great lady awaited him with her stately 
daughter, Cecilia, his nervousness was so obvious that, to 
lighten matters, she said, in her elephantine way, " I hope, 
Mr. Macready, you have brought some hartshorn and water 
with you, as I am told you are terribly frightened at me." 

In the evening, on the stage, when his first scene with 
her commenced, the sensitive novice again stood for a 
moment petrified by her presence, but, upon her kindly 
whispering the word, he was able to proceed. Before long, 
he caught the glow, and began to forget self-consciousness, 



1 82 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

till, in the last scene, as Mrs. Siddons stood by the side- 
wing, waiting her entrance cue, he uttered a crucial sentence 
in such a way that "she raised her hands, clapping loudly, 
and calling out, ' Bravo, sir, bravo ! ' in sight of part of the 
audience, who joined in her applause. 

The next evening, the last of her two-nights' engagement, 
Mrs. Siddons played Lady Randolph, and Macready was her 
son. Some of her Newcastle friends had written beforehand to 
her to beg that one of her pieces might be Douglas, young 
Macready's 'years and ardour suiting so well the part of 
Norval.' After the play ended, she sent for him, and spoke 
the following valedictory : 

"You are in the right way, but remember what I say, 
study, study, study, and do not marry till you are thirty. I 
remember what it was to be obliged to study at nearly your 
age with a young family about me. Beware of that: keep 
your mind on your art, do not remit your study and you are 
certain to succeed . . . study well, and God bless you." 

Her advice to the player which might be paralleled in a 
letter from Garrick to Powell fell on good soil. Macready 
( c moral, grave, sublime/ as Tennyson called him) held the 
highest place in tragedy for nearly a quarter of a century. He 
consistently traced inspiration to Mrs. Siddons. 

" Her words," he said, " lived with me, and often in 
moments of despondency have come to cheer me. Her acting 
was a revelation to me, which ever after had its influence on 
me in the study of my art. Ease, grace, untiring energy 
through all the variations of human passion, blended into the 
grand and massive style, had been with her the result of 
patient application. On first witnessing her wonderful imper- 
sonations I may say with the poet : 



"' 



Then felt I like some watcher of the skies 
When a new planet swims into his ken.' 

" And I can only liken the effect they produced on me, in 
developing new trains of thought, to the awakening power 
that Michael Angelo's sketch of the Colossal head in the 
Farnesina is said to have had on the mind of Raphael." 



XIV 
HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 

WHAT of the interior at 14 Gower Street, and, later, 
at 49 Great Marlborough Street? Mrs. Siddons's 
existence was at the farthest remove from the 
masquerade of prank and vagary a citizen imagination associ- 
ates with la vie d? artiste. Nursing her babies, adding up her 
weekly accounts, eating her favourite roast beef, this Madame 
Sarah showed no artistic eccentricity in private life. One 
likes to think of gorgeous Tragedy, sitting by the lamp-lit 
table, surrounded by her early circle of pretty faces and 
youthful talk talk, one gathers from the family letters, that 
would not have ' strained a Boswell to bursting/ but rilled with 
affectionate amenity and light-heartedness. 

It is doubtful whether 'the modern student' would feel 
much interest in Mr. Siddons, were details concerning him 
thick as leaves in Vallombrosa. They are not. He left fewer 
traces of himself in written record than the consort of any 
celebrity of as recent a period as Mrs. Siddons's. Five plain, 
respectable letters by him are to be found in Whalley's 
* Journals and Correspondence/ and four or five, in manuscript, 
in the Hardwicke Papers, and among the British Museum 
Sheridan Correspondence. It transpires that he was, not 
exactly a nonentity, but undervitalised, and bounded by him- 
self. In his favour, it should be said that, however unresist- 
ingly he may have slid into the habit of letting his wife 
support him, he was a decent liver, 1 and neither ill-treated her, 

1 I have seen an unpublished letter, of 1792, from Mrs. Piozzi to Mrs. Pennington, 
referring to some scandal about Mr. Siddons, in which Mrs. Siddons, for a time, 
believed. Taylor's Records of my Life, ii. 85, leads one to imagine that the scandal 
was a slander. 

183 



1 84 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

nor gambled away her earnings. He retired from the stage, 
but, says Boaden, only because he was too mediocre an 
actor for the family's credit; he lost a considerable sum 
of money, made by Mrs. Siddons, over the part proprietor- 
ship of Sadler's Wells Theatre, but, there, his intentions had 
been meritorious. It needed a Phelps to make 'the Wells 
pay. 

It is hard for a man to play perpetual second fiddle to a 
wife, and the man who does so gracefully, and without fore- 
going his claims to respect, must be gifted with some hidden 
quality surpassing even his partner's brilliancy. It may be 
granted that Mrs. Siddons's prince consort was fussy and 
insignificant, and, as a consequence of his subsidiary position, 
occasionally ill-humoured, but, on the whole, he seems to have 
sustained the role of Melpomene's husband with reasonable 
sense and taste. He was an actor and he had to undergo 
the humiliation of not acting, and of seeing his better half 
play her great parts supported by her brother. Something, 
in addition, may be urged for him on the score that a wife 
vowed (as his was) to the exclusive worship of her own relations 
is a cross for any man. Altogether unamiable he could not 
have been, since he was liked, as well as esteemed, by a 
brother-in-law. " The confidence between Mr. S. and my 
Brother is unbounded," writes Mrs. Siddons, in a letter of 
1798. It was inevitable that he should not be named in the 
diaries of eminent individuals who recorded having met Mrs. 
Siddons out dining. In Windham's Diary, under May 15th, 
1791, we may, however, read that the writer, having called, 
and found Mrs. Siddons out, "sat some time with Mr. 
Siddons." 

Like other subordinate husbands, * Sid ' talked lengthily of 
his wife. That he had some sense of humour, and could 
even ' pull ' an interlocutor's ' leg,' seems evidenced by a speech 
the late Mr. James Dibdin reports him as making to Dr. 
Mackenzie of Portpartick. " Do you know ? " he asked, " that 
small beer is good for crying ? The day that my wife drinks 
small beer, she cries amazingly; she is really pitiful. But if 
I was to give her porter, or any stronger liquor, she would 
not be worth a farthing." 




MRS. SIDDONS'S HUSBAND 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 185 

When the Lawrence troubles thickened round his daughters, 
Mr. Siddons, as a counsellor and helper, left something to be 
desired. He was, said his wife, so harsh and repelling that 
confidence, on their part and hers, was alienated. Most 
likely, he forgot he had once been young. Messrs. Allen 
permit me to quote a letter, in which Mrs. Siddons, scarified, 
at the time, by 'briery Circumstance/ and exasperated by 
her husband's attitude, reveals his shortcomings to Mrs. 
Pennington 

"You desir'd me to tell you how Mr. S. received the 
information which I told you had been communicated ; with 
that coldness and reserve which had kept him so long ignorant 
of it, and that want of an agreeing mind (my misfortune, though 
not his faulty that has always check'd my tongue and chilled 
my heart, in every occurrence of importance thro* our lives. 
No, it is not his fault, it is his nature. Nay, he wou'd never 
have hinted to Sally anything of the matter, if I had not 
earnestly represented to him how strange such reserve must 
appear to her ; whereupon he testified his total disapprobation, 
nay, abhorrence of any further intercourse with Mr. L[awrence], 
whom he reprobated with the spirit of a just man ABOVE the 
WEAKNESSES which are the misfortunes of the Race in 
general." 

Probably, the sympathies of ' Sid ' and Sally so John 
Kemble familiarly named the pair were not more imperfect 
than Sir Walter and Lady Scott's. A good deal has been 
made of their ' separation/ of which the malignant Mrs. Galindo 
gives the date October, 1804. Mr. Siddons's ever-increasing 
rheumatism had long before decided him in favour of Bath as 
an abiding-place. Cecilia, his ten-year-old daughter, was at 
Bath, at the Miss Lees' school, Belvedere House; his other 
children were dead, or scattered. He had little in common 
with his wife's fashionable set. He was inured to her absences 
on tour, and she, though, hitherto, she had nursed him through 
severe rheumatic attacks, was too busy to miss him. So to 
Bath he went, and he and Mrs. Siddons paid each other, from 
time to time, visits of considerable length. 

A significant letter, of December i6th, 1804, given by 
Campbell, from Mrs. Siddons to her husband, after their 



1 86 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

so-called separation, concerning his ultimate disposition of their 
property, runs as follows : 

" MY DEAR SID, I am really sorry that my little flash of 
merriment should have been taken so seriously, for I am sure, 
however we may differ in trifles, we can never cease to love 
each other. You wish me to say what I expect to have done 
I can expect nothing more than you yourself have designed 
me in your will. Be (as you ought to be) the master of all 
while God permits, but, in case of your death, only let me 
be put out of the power of any person living. This is all 
that I desire ; and I think that you cannot but be convinced 
that it is reasonable and proper. Your ever affectionate and 
faithful S. S." 

This undemanding letter in itself gives evidence of the 
simplicity and sincerity of its writer. 

Mrs. Siddons was in Bath during February, 1808. In the 
Bath Herald, for Saturday, February 6th, I read: "at the 
Theatre Royal Last night but two Mrs. Siddons in the Tragedy 
of Venice Preserved"; in the same, for February nth: "Mary 
Queen of Scots. Queen Mary by Mrs. Siddons Positively the 
last night of her performing here." On the following March 
nth, William Siddons died, unexpectedly "as he had prayed 
to die, without a sigh," Mrs. Siddons told Lady Harcourt. In 
the Bath Journal, for Monday, March I4th, one may read: 
" Friday died at his Lodgings in this City William Siddons, esq : 
the very worthy and affectionate husband of the justly celebrated 
Mrs. Siddons. Though long an invalid dissolution may be 
said to have been sudden as he had passed the preceding 
evening with a circle of friends in his usual social and pleasant 
manner." The Bath Chronicle, in its next issue, practically 
copied the Journal notice, and a similar item appeared in the 
Bath Herald. The address of Siddons's lodgings is not given 
in any of these newspapers. In the Bath Abbey Register, an 
entry reads, "William Siddons was buried on March 16, 1808." 
In 1908, Miss Harriot Siddons and her brother, Mr. Henry G. 
I. Siddons, grandchildren of Mrs. Siddons's second son, George, 
placed a tablet in Bath Abbey to William Siddons's memory. 
It seems unlikely that Mrs. Siddons should have erected no 
monument over her husband's grave; one can only suppose 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 187 

that the original stone has been moved, and lost, during one 
of the changes effected in the Abbey in the course of the 
intervening century. The present tablet bears for inscription : 
"Sacred to the Memory of William Siddons Esq: who died 
at Bath, nth March, 1808." 

His bleakness and untowardness now forgotten, William 
Siddons's widow wrote of his death, two or three weeks after 
it occurred, to Mrs. Piozzi : 

"... I shall feel it longer than I shall speak of it. May 
I die the death of my honest, worthy husband, and may 
those to whom I am dear remember me ... as I remember 
him, forgiving all my errors, and recollecting only my quietness 
of spirit and singleness of heart." 

Since Mrs. Siddons was bread-winner and mother both, she, 
necessarily, had to leave her girls, when children, and, later, 
when invalids, under other feminine care than her own, while 
she was away, earning for their wants. In the direction of 
practical thought for them, and care for their future, this 
great artist was every inch a mother. When, in 1786, Whalley 
named to her his apprehensions of some undesirable marriage 
threatening his pretty niece, she responded "You could not 
speak to one who understands those anxieties you mention 
better than I do." Later, when her girls were 'out,' she 
encouraged eligible young men, but, at this date, Sally was 
only eleven, and Maria seven. Mrs. Siddons's sixth and 
youngest child was born, it should be noted, twenty years 
later than her eldest. 

Mrs. Siddons belonged to the type of mothers who frankly 
admire their children, and love to discourse of them. On four 
separate occasions, she wrote to Whalley 

in 1785, "Sarah is an elegant creature, and Maria is as 
beautiful as a seraphim. Harry grows very awkward, sensible 
and well-disposed," 

in 1786 (January), when George was newly born, she 
described him as " healthy and lovely as an angel," and this 
was her joke " very like the Prince of Wales ! " 

in 1786 (August), " My . . . children are . . . well, clever, 
and lovely," 

(October) "... Sally is vastly clever; Maria and George 



1 88 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

are beautiful ; and Harry a boy with very good parts, but 
not disposed to learning." l 

In 1794, Amelia Alderson, afterwards Opie's wife, wrote to 
Norwich, from London, that she had been to Marlborough 
Street, and found Mrs. Siddons nursing her baby (Cecilia 
the sixth baby) and "as handsome and charming as ever." 
The unmarried lady added, " The baby is all a baby can be, 
but Mrs. S. laughs, and says it is a wit and a beauty already 
in her eyes." 

Shortly after her 1782 re-entry into London, Mrs. Siddons 
sent Harry to Dr. Barrow's Academy in Soho Square. After 
a few months there, he passed, on Queen Charlotte's nomi- 
nation, into the Charterhouse, where he remained five years. 
1 ' Boys," observed Mrs. Siddons, speaking particularly of her 
second, George, afterwards the Indian Civil Servant, "are 
noisy creatures compared to girls." She frequently changed 
her daughters' schools, though keeping mostly to Bath as their 
locality this was long before Mrs. Twiss opened at 24 Camden 
Place. In the early part of 1789, Sally and Maria were de- 
posited by their parents at Mrs. Semple's finishing-school at 
Calais, where they appeared to have stayed about three years. 

Thanks to their mother's genius, there was no need to 
train them for wage-earning. One might have said that the 
unoccupied existences they were allowed to lead as young, 
grown-up girls could not have conduced to health of body 
or mind, but that a sentence which occurs, in 1797, in one 
of Mr. Siddons's letters to Whalley, " Sally ... has had the 
worst fit I ever knew, and is still very ill," suggests a reason 
for Mrs. Siddons's tacitly judging their already asthmatic 
elder daughter incapable of a professional life. A statement, 
singular in both senses, occurs in Mrs. Papendiek's Remini- 
scences, miscalled ' Journals,' to the effect that Maria was 
expected to appear, at Drury Lane, apparently, early in 1790(1) 
as Lessing's Emilia Galotti. Mrs. Papendiek (whom Mrs. 
Raine Ellis well summarised as 'gossipping and credulous 
of gossip ') goes on to allege that Maria has, previously, 
greatly shone, as Lessing's heroine, in Stanmore Priory 
theatricals, that a brilliant success was anticipated, but that 

1 Appendix A. 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 189 

Mrs. Siddons, ostensibly on account of Maria's youthfulness 
and delicacy, and really from fear of being outrivalled, with- 
drew her daughter's name just before her debut. In support 
of these assertions, there was, certainly, in Drury Lane 
announcements, of October, 1794, mention of ' a Young Lady ' 
to play Emilia Galotti as 'her first appearance on any Stage/ 
but, on the other hand, this description was justified, on the 
night of the production, in the person of Miss Miller. Pro- 
bably, Mrs. Papendiek's canard grew out of nothing more 
tangible than somebody's surmise (dimly recollected across a 
forty years' interval) that the 'Young Lady' might prove a 
Miss Siddons. The remainder of the space the 'Journals' 
devotes to the Siddons family is an amusing tissue of error. 

Beauty both Mrs. Siddons's daughters possessed. Maria 
was the lovelier, but Sally's face had more of the interest 
of character. An enchanting trio, indeed, they and Mrs. 
Siddons -fili<z pulchrcz^ mater pulchrior must have appeared 
when they entered a room together, and it cannot be wondered 
at that the man of the most marked artistic sensibility of 
any living in England at that time found his imagination 
enchained by this conjoint vision of grace and charm that 
represented the Siddons-Kemble ' type.' Thomas Lawrence, 
A.R.A., afterwards Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A., commenced 
his strange, febrile relations with the Siddons family by 
becoming, in the first instance, the follower of Sally. Mr. 
Knapp's Pennington and Bird letters invalidate the order 
of the data of the Lawrence drama given in Record of a 
Girlhood. So few persons knew, at the time, what was taking 
place as to Lawrence's successive volte-face that it is small 
wonder that Fanny Kemble, who had no documents, and was 
born long after both Miss Siddons were dead, saw through a 
glass darkly. 

Aged twenty-six, Lawrence, at about 1795, was handsome, 
polished, and fascinating. From the moment he settled in 
London, he struck at the highest quarry, and, says Mrs. 
Inchbald, in her plain way, "his plan demanded ample pre- 
mises, which in good situations are expensive to the rising 
artist." He took up his quarters in Greek Street, Soho, near 
the Siddonses in Great Marlborough Street. 



190 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

To people of to-day it is obvious how low, compared with 
Reynolds's level, was the level on which his over-elegant, 
over-facile successor painted. Lawrence's best work lies in his 
delicate, expressive outline drawings, as to which Elizabeth, 
Duchess of Devonshire, wrote to him, " I know that your 
drawings are finer than anything known," and it is difficult 
to think that the same hand drew the captivating heads of 
Mrs. Siddons, reproduced in Mr. Knapp's book, and, only a 
little later, painted the full-length of her that hangs on the 
staircase of the National Portrait Gallery with its too ruddy 
complexion, its badly hung, over-stalwart arms. What 
Lawrence lacked was the austerity of taste, and of mind, 
generally, which, by enabling a painter to govern his art, 
makes him great. 

During his passages with the Siddons family, we see him, 
in some of his letters, so melodramatic, so bullying, as to 
recall someone's bitter opinion of Canning, viz. that he 
could ' never be a gentleman for more than three hours at 
a time.' Nevertheless, this was far from the impression Law- 
rence made, when out of love. People, in general, found his 
manners gentle, and, in spite of his obscure origin and personal 
pretensions, retiring rather than assertive. Benjamin Haydon's 
'obituary' comment on him that he had smiled so often and 
so long that at last his smile had the appearance of being 
set in enamel is well known. Less frequently quoted is 
Haydon's earlier description (in a magazine article entitled 
' Somniator's other Vision ') of Lawrence being turned by 
Michael Angelo's ghost! into a bottle of sweet oil, whereas 
Northcote is transformed into a gilded viper, and Fuseli sent 
straight to hell. The general verdict pronounced Lawrence 
too suave. 

He was that combination of susceptibility and attractive- 
ness which makes a man, almost involuntarily, a flirt. He 
whole-heartedly desired to marry Sally Siddons, and, for her, 
wore mourning till his death. Yet he confessed to the Charles 
Kembles that he had, subsequently, been deeply in love with 
the beautiful Mrs. Wolff, while, when he died of ossification 
of the heart, still another lady put on widow's weeds for him. 
He was even implicated in ' the delicate investigation ' con- 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 191 

cerning the conduct of the Princess of Wales. " He could 
not write a common answer to a dinner invitation without 
its assuming the tone of a billet-doux ", the very commonest 
conversation was held in that soft low whisper and with 
that tone of deference and interest which are so unusual and 
so calculated to please." 

It would be clear that the Miss Siddons must have been 
in every way adequate from the fact that such a man gave 
them burning adoration. One all but arrives, indeed, at the 
conclusion that he was in love with the whole family, and 
the whole family with him. The works which established his 
reputation were portraits of the Kembles, and the last sketch 
he ever perfected was that of Fanny Kemble. Who can doubt 
that the image of Mrs. Siddons warmed his imagination from 
the day when, ' JE* 13,' he drew her portrait at Bath? 
He was fourteen years her junior, but every actress is one 
to two decades younger than her years. It need no more 
astonish us if sundry living people maintain that he was, 
deep down, in love with her, while supposing himself 
enamoured, successively, of her daughters, than that, in her 
day, evil thinkers invented slander to which the following 
reference is made, in a letter written, in 1810, by the Princess 
of Wales: "The report about Mrs. Siddons and Lawrence 
I always thought most shameful, and never believed it, and 
rejoice that it is proved to be false." 1 

When Lawrence was sixty, Fanny Kemble, then twenty, 
declared herself on the way to being in love with him, and, 
since she was a Kemble, exercised over him, in her minor 
measure, the old spell. " Oh ! she is very like her [i.e. Maria] : 
she is very like them all," he murmured, as he gazed at the 
portrait he had just made of her. It is significant that, when 
he sent her a proof-plate of Reynolds's ' Tragic Muse,' with 
the inscription, "This portrait, by England's greatest painter, 
of the noblest subject of his pencil, is presented to her niece 
and worthy successor, by her most faithful humble friend and 
servant, Lawrence," he afterwards sent for the picture, and 
erased the words, " and worthy successor." His secretary told 

1 Diary [by Lady Charlotte Bury] Illustrative of the Times of George tke Fourth, 
iv. 63, see also ii. 71, 1838. 



1 92 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Fanny that Lawrence had the print lying, with the inscription, 
in his drawing-room for several days before sending it to her, 
and had said to him, " Cover it up ; I cannot bear to look at 
it." The most touching fact of all is that when, after years 
of severance (for, in spite of a few wistful letters written to 
him as necessary occasions arose, she did not resume the old 
friendly relations after Sally's death 1 ) Mrs. Siddons felt not 
far from her end, she said to her brother, " Charles, when I die, 
I wish to be carried to my grave by you and Lawrence." 
" Good God ! did she say that ? " exclaimed Lawrence, when 
told. Her wish could not be fulfilled, for Sir Thomas pre- 
deceased by eighteen months her he had called ' the 
Immortal.' 

I should have shrunk from even approaching the ground 
Mr. Oswald G. Knapp made his own by his admirable mani- 
pulation, in An Artist's Love Story , of two unpublished 
collections of Siddons correspondence 1797-1803 one his, 
the other through him Miss Grazebrook's gift to the public, 
but that, realising how incomplete the present chapter would 
be without much reference to them, I wrote to him, and, in reply, 
received the kindest permission, which Messrs. George Allen 
& Sons, the publishers of the book, were so good as to ratify, 
to avail myself of these letters. An Artist's Love Story tells, 
straight from the facts, one of those ' incredible ' double dramas 
of family history that only occasionally, as here, reach their 
logical conclusion in tragedy, desperately piteous, full of the 
cruelty and waste of nature. It is absorbing, from the emotional 
intensity that breathes through every letter of these dmes 
delite, and no one can read it without catching some sense 
of that dependent affection, almost idolatry, which Mrs. 
Siddons inspired in her daughters and intimate friends. 

During 1795, Lawrence who, for some little time, had 
been attached, though not, so far, openly plighted, to Sally 
Siddons, then about twenty began, by moods of alternating 
gloom and violence, to evince that something was wrong. At 
last, he confessed to Mrs. Siddons that he found he loved 
Maria, the bud of sixteen, better than Sally. This was a 

1 He was so dilatory a painter that the fact of his exhibiting the Fitzhugh full- 
length portrait of her in the 1804 Academy proves nothing. 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 193 

painful situation for Sally, who had reciprocated his devotion, 
but, being a temperate, high-minded girl, the worthy daughter 
of her mother, she accepted the inevitable with fortitude and 
smiles, and, continuing to keep the fact of Lawrence's original 
courtship of her as much a secret from all but Mrs. Siddons 
and Maria as, up to the present, it was, she stood aside, while 
Lawrence pressed upon all concerned his zeal to become the 
affianced of her younger sister. It was in the nature of things 
that he should have his way, and, by the commencement of 
1798, the engagement was sanctioned, though there were serious 
objections, chief among them Maria's fragility of constitution. 
Already, a doctor had breathed the word, consumption, as 
being a menace, but the family, like other families similarly 
threatened, had every hope that her ' youth, and the unremitting 
attention paid her' would conquer. Up to this time, Maria 
seems to have been less frequently troubled with illness than 
her elder sister, for Sally was subject to spasmodic asthma, 
and rarely free, for more than three weeks at a time, from a 
prostrating attack of it. 

The family, as a family, was more or less pulmonary. John 
Kemble was badly troubled with asthma, and Sally and Maria's 
brother, Henry, eventually died of phthisis. 

Maria had short joy of her contract. Before six weeks 
were out, Lawrence made it known to her, her mother, and 
Sally that, in spite of his former recantation, he loved Sally, 
and Sally alone. Perhaps, it was never the individual that 
swayed him, but the type. At any rate, this was his final 
return. Whether Maria had proved more trivial, and, there- 
fore, less lovable, than Sally, or whether her rapidly developing 
malady (which had begun to necessitate, according to the 
coddling doctrine of the day, confinement to the house during 
the winter) rendered her exacting and unamusing, one cannot 
know. 

Decorum made it impossible for Sally to give her definite, 
overt consent to marry the man who had now played fast and 
loose with them both. That she avowedly loved him two 
letters she wrote him, presently to be quoted, show. 

With an instinctive reaching towards self-justification, she 
laid the unction to her soul that Maria's "heart could never 
'3 



194 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

have been deeply engag'd." That the wish was here parent 
to the thought is evidenced by the following, in a letter from 
Maria herself to Miss Bird, dated March I4th: 

" I have been quite ill again. ... I yet think I shall not 
live a long while . . . and I see nothing very shocking in 
the idea. ... I may be sav'd from much misery . . . and in 
my short life I have known enough to be sick to death of it. 
You know I suppose the cause of too much of this misery 
. . . but I have determin'd to be silent." 

On April 8th, commenting on the success of The Stranger^ 
the poor child writes: "... is it not strange one should like 
to cry ? as if there was not enough of it in reality." 

At the breaking of the Maria engagement, Lawrence's 
visits to Great Marlborough Street ceased. In the Nineteenth 
Century of April, 1905, Lady Priestley laid open two letters 
Sally addressed to him during the tense period that immediately 
followed, and from these the editor of the Nineteenth Century 
allows me to quote. In the first, Sally wrote : 

"You cannot be in earnest when you talk of being soon 
again in Marlborough Street. . . . Neither you, nor Maria, 
nor I could bear it. Do you think that, tho' she does not 
love you, she would feel no unpleasant sensations to see those 
attentions paid to another which once were hers ? Could you 
bear to pay them, could I endure receiving them ? . . . Nobody 
need know what passes ; from me they certainly will not. I 
will try to make myself easy, since my conduct is no secret 
to her [Mrs. Siddons] whose approbation is as dear to me as 
my life ; but I shall have much to endure ..." 

The remark as to Sally's mother's attitude towards the 
complication is interesting. Mrs. Siddons has been called 
vacillating, and even cowardly, in her relations with Lawrence, 
and, no doubt, the glamour he projected, from first to last, over 
her imagination had much to do with her indulgence, her sub- 
missiveness towards him. Habituated as she was to the ravings 
of Romeos and Jaffiers, the ravings of Lawrence did not disgust 
her as they would have disgusted a more ordinary matron. 
The artist in her unfailingly went out to this other, younger, 
different kind of artist, a man who to herself was almost a 
lover. And it is difficult to see how so sympathetic a mother 




MARIA SIDDONS 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 195 

could, at this juncture, have denied Sally all chance of the 
happiness on which her heart was set, because Lawrence had, 
for a time, 1 'mistaken his feelings 1 at Maria's expense. 
Mrs. Siddons erred in concealing from her husband Lawrence's 
new apostasy. She went so far as to request Mrs. Pennington, 
when enclosing Lawrence's letters, to address to her maid, Sally 
Briggs, 'lest they should fall into improper hands' [i.e. Mr. 
Siddons's]. 2 Her pusillanimity left her too much in the power 
of a man whose temperament was ' artistic ' rather than manly. 
Each partaker, indeed, in this chamber drama, with the possible 
exception of Sally Siddons, seems to have shared the tendency 
of the theatrical temperament to make much of small, and little 
of great issues. 

In the second letter, posted on April 24th, Sally, her affection 
intensified by having met Lawrence the previous evening, 
wrote : 

"... I will tell you more on Thursday. Yes, I will tell you ; 
for if it is fine I mean to walk before breakfast ... I shall be 
in Poland Street before nine. You have a key of Soho Square : 
shall we walk there ? Oh time, time, fly quickly till Thursday 
morning ! . . . 

"... Have you taken your ring to Cowen's ? . . . Have they 
told you it is a TRUE LOVER'S KNOT ? I bought it for you, I 
have worn it, kissed it, and waited anxiously for an opportunity 
to give it you. Last night, beyond my hopes, it presented 
itself. You have it. Keep it, love it, nor ever part with it till 
you return me my letters" 

It had been arranged that Lawrence was to return Sally's 
letters should he ever love elsewhere. 

Like her cousin, Fanny Arkwright, Sally was a musical 
composer. One of her songs, ' When Summer's burning heats 
arise,' is described as sweet and melancholy, and when, in 
1801, Campbell made through Charles Moore the Siddons' 
acquaintance, he wrote : " Miss Siddons . . . sings with incompar- 
able sweetness melodies of her own composition. Except our 

1 " Maria reign'd sole arbitress of his fate for two years, or more." Mrs. Siddons 
to Mrs. Pennington, August 1798. 

2 So completely was the secret kept from relations that, when Maria died, John 
Kemble, believing Lawrence to be her affianced husband, devoted his leisure to 
comforting him. 



196 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

own Scotch airs, and some of Haydn's, I have heard none more 
affecting or simple." Some sentences from the next paragraph 
of this same letter from Sally to Lawrence throw light on the 
inception of her talent : 

". . . I never should have sung as I do had I never seen 
you ; I never should have composed at all. Have I not told 
you that the first song I set to music was that complaint of 
Thomson's to the Nightingale? . . . You then liv'd in my heart, 
in my head, in every idea. . . . You did not love me then. But 
NOW ! oh, mortification, grief, agony are all forgot ! ! I" 

While these ecstasies were going on without, and while the 
secret lovers were pacing the Square garden in the spring 
morning inside 49 Great Marlborough Street the jilted girl 
was beginning to die, as Allan Cunningham maintained both 
sisters did, 'just in the usual way of disease and doctors.' The 
Faculty blistered and bled her, and kept her peering out of 
closed windows, and feeding on her love disappointment, during 
the slow weeks of winter and early spring. " I long so much to 
go out," she wrote, " that I envy every poor little beggar running 
about in the open air ... it seems to me that on these beautiful 
sun-shine days all nature is reviv'd, but not me ... it appears 
to me that I should be very like myself if I could but take a 
walk, and feel the wind blow on me again." 

Our present-day fervour of belief in out-of-door treatment 
for tuberculosis, and contempt of our great-grandparents' stuffy- 
theories thereupon which accorded with their canopied and 
close-curtained four-posters, their nightcaps, and their dread of 
bathing make us liable to fancy that fresh air only came in 
with bacteriology. The following, concerning Maria Siddons, 
from Mrs. Piozzi, on March 27th, 1798, to Mrs. Pennington, 
merits attention : 

"... Shutting a young half-consumptive girl up in one 
unchanged air for three or four months would make any of 
them ill, and ill-humoured too, I should think. But 'tis the new 
way to make them breathe their own infected breath over and 
over again now, in defiance of old books, old experience, and 
good old common sense." 

When July came, the Siddons family migrated, in Maria's 
interest, to Clifton. The invalid bore the journey well, seemed 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 197 

better for the change, rode, even went to a ball. Less than a 
fortnight later, Mrs. Siddons departed on a professional tour in 
the Midlands, taking her husband and Sally with her, and 
leaving Maria in Dowry Square, Clifton, under the charge of 
the unselfish Mrs. Pennington, nfe Weston, who lived there. 
From Cheltenham, early in August, Mrs. Siddons wrote to 
Mrs. Pennington : 

" I must go dress for Mrs. Beverley my soul is well tun'd 
for scenes of woe, and it is sometimes a great relief from 
the struggles I am continually making to wear a face of 
cheerfulness at home, that I can at least upon the stage give 
a full vent to the heart which, in spite of my best endeavours, 
swells with its weight almost to bursting ; and then I pour it 
all out upon my innocent auditors." 

The pyschology of the player we conventionally pity, 
because he 

'hides in rant the heart-ache of the night,' 

is here laid bare, and one of the first of players is found describ- 
ing the outward manifestation permitted to stage tragedy as 
' a great relief to an overfraught heart. To her, artist, primarily, 
as she was, in the thickest of her cares, the exercise of her art 
was a refuge and a safety-valve. Consciously, as well as un- 
consciously, she mingled her own pain with the sorrows of the 
part, and, thus, we cannot doubt that the loss of her two 
beloved girls added a further profundity to her embodiment of 
Constance, the bereft mother, in King John. She said, years 
afterwards, that she had never acted so well as once, ' when her 
heart was heavy concerning the loss of a child.' 

Up to the date when Sally left London, Lawrence had 
behaved rationally. At Birmingham, when Mrs. Siddons was 
due, on her tour, to act there, he reappeared, and, on the day 
1 her sweet Sally ' was despatched to Clifton to help in nursing 
Maria, as to whom a disquieting bulletin had been received, he 
had an interview with the troubled mother. She had just heard 
from Mrs. Pennington that Maria was developing a fixed idea 
of opposition to the possibility of Sally ever marrying him. 
Was Maria's attitude vindictiveness against him, we may wonder, 
was there subconscious jealousy in it, or was it what it professed 
itself dread (which illness rendered morbid) that her sister, 



1 98 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

dependent on such a man, must be unhappy? 1 Whatever 
Maria's motive, it seems clear that the fact was communicated 
by Mrs. Siddons, at this Birmingham interview, to Lawrence, 
whom she certainly told that Sally, in view of the desperate 
condition of Maria's health, now desired with her own full 
concurrence definitely to give him up, as a lover. 

In response, Lawrence behaved like (the phrase is Mrs. 
Siddons's) a ' wretched madman.' To threaten suicide, or, as 
its alternative, immediate departure for Switzerland, was, with 
him, no new device. Actually he 'flew' to Clifton, where he 
lodged, under the name of Jennings, at the Bear Inn, and pro- 
ceeded to bombard Mrs. Pennington with frantic letters, 
imploring her either to remould Maria's mind, or avert her 
untoward influence over Sally. Possessed by the new, alarming 
suggestion just opened to his view, he forgot everything but 
selfishness. 

Kind-hearted Mrs. Pennington, deprecating his Wertherism, 
but enjoying the romance, granted him, on a scorching day, an 
out-of-door interview, whereat, after trudging backwards and 
forwards, ' for very Life,' in a sunny field, beside ' this torment 
of a man/ listening to his bluster, she was at last driven to 
' flump down upon a dusty Bank ' to hear him out. Concerning 
Mrs. Pennington, at this juncture, Mr. T. P. O'Connor has 
picturesquely written : 

" Here is a pretty situation for our poor fluttering chaperon ; 
that narrow-winged, timorous, decorous hen that has to throw 
her wings around this tragic flock which is not her own 
with the real guardian, tall, stern, hook-nosed, brilliant-eyed, 
authoritative, in far-off Birmingham, enacting feigned tragedy ! " 

A sterner intruder than Lawrence was about to lift the latch. 
From this time forward, the Clifton letters become full of pulse, 
perspirations, cough, sleeplessness, debility, long hours of 
silence, emaciation, ' not one trace of even prettiness remaining.' 
Mrs. Siddons writes, in reply : " I do not flatter myself she will 
be long continued to me. The Will of God be done ; but I hope, 
I hope she will not suffer much \ " Regarding Sally, too, these 
letters report interludes of acute asthma, when nothing avails 

1 Unfortunately, Sally, even after Maria's death, considered that her sister had 
been 'actuated as much by resentment for Aim, as care and tenderness for her.' 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 199 

but laudanum, under which she lies, for the greater part of a 
week at a time, ' her faculties ic'd over.' But Sally recovers as 
rapidly as she is taken ill. On September 15th, she writes to 
Miss Bird : 

" I look forward to the greatest of comforts, we expect my 
belov'd mother in a week, and greatly as the joy of this meeting 
will be damp'd by poor Maria's situation, yet to me it will be 
the greatest comfort and happiness, if at present I could feel 
happy. Blest in the society and love of that best of mothers, 
I scarcely feel another want, but absent from her, there is a 
vacancy in my heart nothing else can fill. You are become 
better acquainted with her, my dear friend, and have overcome 
the prejudices which made you afraid of her. Now then you 
can imagine what she must be to me, not only the tenderest o 
parents, but the sweetest and most indulgent of friends, to 
whom my whole heart is open, and from whose sympathy and 
consolation I have found comfort and happiness, in moments of 
severe affliction. Depriv'd of every other blessing, I must still 
be thankful for that great blessing." 

At last, on September 24th, Mrs. Siddons, who, likewise, had 
bei ;n counting on (and dreading) this day, was able to rejoin 
he: children, and Maria was moved, in a sedan, from Mrs. 
Pennington's, into lodgings, across the square. Actors and 
their belongings were no less then than they are now the play- 
things of gossip, and, already, newspaper writers ('unfeeling 
Blockheads' according to Lawrence) were circling round the 
death-bed of Mrs. Siddons's daughter, ignorant though they 
were of its innermost poignancy. 

One of the moving features in the story is the development 
and intensification of Maria's character in the school of suffering. 
She began, frivolous and vain, 'incapable of any exertion of 
mind or body,' she herself said, and her mother agreed, a 
spoilt younger girl, ready to take on her sister's lover without 
self-questioning. Only a short time after, but when she is pro- 
nounced in danger of ' a consumption,' condemned to the house, 
and forsaken by her lover, a new interest in the doings and 
feelings of others appears in her letters, as well as uncomplain- 
ing patience touching her double disorder. Only towards the end 
are wrung from her the words, " Think what my sufferings must be, 



200 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

when I can wish to leave such a family as mine ! yet I do wish to 
be released." And then, as her whole state becomes more and 
more abnormal, there emerges the dogged bias against Lawrence 
which remains with her till the last. 

What, meanwhile, of Sally's attitude? How did she bear 
herself, set midway between the impulsive artist she loved and 
the dying sister he had injured, as, earlier, he had injured 
herself? A few words from one of Mrs. Pennington's letters to 
Lawrence best answers : 

" This dear Girl's Mind is as firm as her Heart is tender and 
affectionate. The present critical and uncommon state of 
circumstances in which she is placed calls forth all her energies. 
She is really elevated above all thoughts of Self alive only to 
her duties." 

October 7th, 1798, proved to be Maria's last day of existence. 
The letter in which, at Lawrence's express request, Mrs. 
Pennington conveyed to him, together with his own doom, every 
detail of the final twenty-four hours, is too piteous to dwell on. 
One extract is necessary to explain after-occurrences : 

" She desired to have Prayers read, and followed her angelic 
mother, who read them, and who appear'd like a blessed spirit 
ministering about her. She then turn'd the conversation to you, 
and said : ' That man told you, Mother, he had destroy'd my 
Letters. / have no opinion of his honor, and I entreat you to 
demand them.' . . . She then said, Sally had promised her 
NEVER to think of an union with Mr. Lawrence, and appeal'd 
to her Sister to confirm it, 1 who, quite overcome, reply'd : ' I 
did not promise, dear, dying Angel ; but I WILL, and DO, if 
you require it.' ' Thank you, Sally ; my dear Mother Mrs. 
Pennington . . . lay your hands on hers* (we did so). 'You 
understand? bear witness.' We bowed, and were speechless; 
' Sally, sacred, sacred be this promise' stretching out her hand, 
and pointing her forefinger 'REMEMBER ME, and God bless 
you.' 

"And what, after this, my friend, can you say to SALLY 
SlDDONS? She has entreated me to give you this detail 
to say that the impression IS sacred, IS indelible that it 

1 Mr. Siddons, also, we must suppose, at Clifton, was out of the room when this 
scene took place. 








CECILIA SIDDONS 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 201 

cancels all former bonds and engagements that she entreats 
you to submit, and not to prophane this awful season by a 
murmur." 

To this letter, Lawrence, only consistent in being selfish, 
hurled a reply like a bardic curse. Mrs. Pennington and Mrs. 
Siddons termed it 'diabolical.' It was the cry of rage of a 
baffled animal, and, with Sally and her mother, injured his cause 
as much as the vow it protested against had done. " It may be 
love" wrote Sally to Mrs. Pennington, " but ... / fly with 
HORROR from such a passion ! I will not say that weakness 
shall never return . . . We cannot, you know, quite conquer all 
our feelings, but . . . with the help of heaven . . . whatever I 
may feel I will act AS I HAVE PROMIS'D." 

Mrs. Siddons quickly returned from the dark, awful impres- 
sion of untimely death to what she named 'the siege of her 
affairs/ " Ce riest que le travail qui guerit de vivre? She was 
no marble lady, bending over an urn. She grieved, and her 
grief was, as she had once honoured a friend's for being, * little 
clamorous, solemn, simple/ x yet, in under three weeks, she was 
acting again. Outsiders find it a jarring fact that players 
resume their engagements so quickly, after occasions of 
mourning. It is sometimes forgotten that players think, not 
of the amusement side of the theatre, but of what Mrs. Siddons, 
just after her father's death, termed ' the anxiety of business/ 

She now chose the part of Isabella, in Measure for Measure, 
for the touching reason that it was ' a character that affords as 
little as possible to open wounds which are but too apt to bleed 
afresh/ Even now, she could not face the consequences of 
shaking off Lawrence altogether. Perhaps, because she feared 
what she called ' an eclat ' unless he were humoured, she made 
the certainly weak suggestion to Mrs. Pennington that the latter 
should promise him that Sally would become engaged to no 
one else. 

From this time, Lawrence, as a speaking character, drops 
out of the Siddons domestic drama, and Sally, except by some 
comfortless accident, saw him no more. For awhile, he went 
on declaring to the Twisses his unalterable determination to 
marry her. When she did, by chance, see him, he behaved 

1 Whalley, ii. 22. 



202 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

ungovernably. Once he wrote to her, but she answered his 
letter so decisively that he began to realise she was immovable. 
In the detached tone that, every now and then, characterised 
Mrs. Siddons, even in affairs of acute personal interest, she wrote, 
concerning her daughter, under date, November nth, 1799: 
" Poor Soul, she thought, I suppose (naturally enough for her) 
that his adoration was to last for ever, even against Hope, and 
I think is rather piqued to find that ' these violent transports 
have violent ends.' " 

Sally wore a brave face, in spite of the inner restlessness her 
intimate letters reveal. Though, shortly after her sister's death, 
she cared not if she never entered another ' crouded ' assembly, 
she now mixed a great deal in society. She took up the 
successive fashions of the hour among them, skipping. She 
kept up her friendly familiarity with Mrs. Inchbald's Charles 
Moore, that phenomenal laugher, the youngest and barrister 
brother of Sir John Moore, on whose distinguished family 
a volume might be written, tragic, too. Mrs. Mair though, 
it may be, under a misapprehension states that, at the time 
of her death, she was engaged to Charles. In a letter of 
Mrs. Siddons's we read that Sally ' had a particular regard for 
him,' a regard, she implies, which, had health been hers, might 
have ripened into marriage. There can be little doubt that 
Charles Moore was in love with her. 

Asthma, meantime, was strengthening its grip on Sally. 
On January 8th, 1799, she writes, " I am ... in tortures with that 
same pain in my back which returns with the slightest cold." 
Seven months later, she had an attack so severe as to place her 
life in some danger ; in the following November, Mrs. Siddons 
was doubting whether she ought ever to go out in the evening, 
in winter. In January, 1801, one of Sally's letters contains this 
passage : 

" I sing but little now to what I did once, and indeed 
I think all my energy is weaken'd since I have ceas'd to give 
delight to the three beings who were dearest to me on earth ; 
one is gone for ever, the second is as dead to me, and the third 
no longer takes the same delight in me she once did." 

The last reference is to the mother in whose absence, two 
years later, she wrote, " home wants more than half its comforts 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 203 

while she is away." Between mother and daughter, a little 
cloud had gradually risen, as to Lawrence. While Mrs. Siddons 
was still nervously warding off any likelihood of a meeting 
between him and ' the best beloved of her heart,' her ' adorable 
Sally/ she herself, acknowledging to Mrs. Pennington that 'a 
corner of her heart still yearned towards this unhappy creature,' 
and away from her house and family, renewed friendly relations 
with him. To the disquietude of Sally, and the disapproval of 
intimates acquainted with the facts, she saw him in her room 
at the theatre, almost every evening. But she brought home 
scarcely any news, and no messages. She could never clear 
her mind of the suspicion that Sally would to her certain 
unhappiness relent if she came under his spell. Each woman 
must have thought the other weaker than herself. 

Things were remaining in this condition, but with Lawrence 
quite cooled, and cherishing little more than a memory of Sally, 
when, in May, 1802, her Drury Lane period finally ended, and 
her Covent Garden period not yet begun, Mrs. Siddons, attended 
by Patty Wilkinson, who had companioned her and Sally ever 
since Maria's death, started for Ireland on a tour of considerable 
duration. Sally was judged just not well enough to go. She 
stayed in London, with her father ; her brother, George ; during 
school holidays, little Cecy Siddons; and Dorothy Place, 
another girl friend almost domiciled in Great Marlborough 
Street. 

Mrs. Siddons left home with a heavy heart. She was 
oppressed by a presentiment of misfortune, and, since it was 
natural she should fix her fears on the likeliest calamity, we 
find her writing to Mrs. Piozzi : " . . . my eyes have dwelt with 
a foreboding tenderness too painful, on the venerable face 
of my dear father, that tells me I shall look on it no more." 

Summer and autumn brought her letters calculated to 
reassure her as to the welfare of those left behind. Sally's told 
of jaunts with Bertie Greatheed and Charlie Moore, a l pic-nic' 
in the Temple, Dorothy's new hat, ' a pretty cold supper,' late 
hours, visits to the play "how delightfully I laughed at 
'Fortune's Frolic.'" It all sounded wholesome and young. 
Henry Siddons's wedding took place during this same summer, 
and Sally sent Patty a description of how Miss Murray looked 



204 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

in her travelling wedding dress, how moist people's pocket 
handkerchiefs were, how nervous Harry was so nervous that 
he ' shook,' how, nevertheless, he " was very ready to reply, and 
cried out, ' I will,' " and wanted to put on the ring, before the 
proper time. 

Mrs. Siddons's three headquarters were Dublin, Cork, and 
Belfast, and, in each, her popularity and profits were enormous. 
The profits were wanted, for, in the late autumn, ' Sid ' wrote, 
anxious as to ways and means, and begging her to accept 
a Liverpool offer, unless she chose to extend her Dublin 
engagement. There was a long bill for the decoration of 
49 Great Marlborough Street, and George needed a costly outfit 
for India. Upon this, the money-maker arranged to keep on 
in Dublin for the winter. On December 9th, the news came to 
her of Roger Kemble's death on the 6th. The comforting and 
rational promise, " Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children," 
was not to be fully verified to her. 

In February, 1803, in Dublin, Mrs. Siddons had the in part, 
heart-aching pleasure of a fortnight's visit from her son, 
George, just before his departure for Bengal. "Their mutual 
smiles," wrote Patty Wilkinson, " were often more affecting than 
any tears." They never met again. 

Not till almost mid-March did any suggestion reach 
Ireland that Sally (of whom George's news had been good) 
was acutely, and, this time, mortally stricken. On March loth, 
Mr. Siddons wrote to Patty Wilkinson, but begged her to say 
nothing to alarm his wife. Patty, trusting her own judgment 
in preference to his, showed Mrs. Siddons the letter, and 
Mrs. Siddons determined to throw everything over, and hasten 
home. Unhappily, the gale was so contrary, that, for days, 
boats could not put out. A brighter report, meanwhile, arrived 
from 'Sid,' who unforgivably callous, at such a juncture, in 
thinking solely of gain urged Mrs. Siddons not to abandon 
a pending engagement at Cork. On this, she proceeded to 
Cork, whence she wrote to Mrs. Fitzhugh in London : 

"... Would to God I were at her bedside ! . . . Will you 
believe that I must play to-night, and can you imagine any 
wretchedness like it in this terrible state of mind? For a 
moment I comfort myself by reflecting on the strength of 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 205 

the dear creature's constitution. . . . Then again, when I think 
of the frail tenure of human existence, my heart fails, and 
sinks into dejection. . . . The suspense that distance keeps 
me in, you may imagine, but it cannot be described." 

There was no telegraph, and, in those ante-steamship, 
ante-railway days, Ireland was more distant from London 
than Seville is now. After further days of bad weather and 
delayed packet service, an unfavourable bulletin reached Mrs. 
Siddons. In contrast to her husband, her Cork Manager, Pero, 
showed himself sympathetic and generous regarding the 
breaking of his bargain, and, having settled this, she returned 
in the hope of a possible sea-passage to Dublin, where, 
again, she had to await a change of wind. In her anguish, she 
wrote to Mrs. Fitzhugh : 

" I am perfectly astonished . . . that I have not heard from 
you, after begging it so earnestly. ... I cannot account for 
your silence at all, for you know how to feel. I hope to sail 
to-night, and to reach London the third day. . . . Oh God ! 
what a home to return to ... and what a prospect to the end of 
my days ! " 

When, at last, she had got as far on her journey as 
Shrewsbury, she was met by a letter which boded the worst. 
Two hours after Mr. Siddons wrote it, on March 24th, 1803, 
Sally, at the age of twenty-seven, breathed her last. She had 
been under the care of one of the leading doctors of the 
day, Sir Lucas Pepys. Her death was, in all probability, due 
to emphysema of the lungs, induced by the severity and 
frequency of her paroxysms of asthma. Immediately she 
was dead, some one was charged to carry the tidings to 
Shrewsbury. Mrs. Siddons was reading her husband's latest 
letter as Patty Wilkinson was called from the room. When 
Patty returned, she had no need to speak. Her face told all. 

For a day, Mrs. Siddons lay as cold and quiet as a stone, 
in a state that may well have been the culmination of those 
'desperate tranquillities,' that, in private, life were, she said, 
her way of manifesting the tragedy within. 

Three months later, we find her writing to Mrs. Galindo : 

"... the inscrutable ways of providence ! Two lovely 
creatures gone, and another is just arrived from school with 



206 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

all the dazzling, frightful sort of beauty that irradiated the 
countenance of Maria, and makes me shudder when I look 
at her. I feel myself like poor Niobe grasping to her bosom . . . 
the last and younger of her children . . ." 

This last and youngest was Cecilia, the only daughter, as 
George was the only son, who survived Mrs. Siddons. Cecilia, 
who was nine when Sally died, was Mrs. Piozzi's godchild, and 
named after Cecilia Thrale. Dr. Whalley was her godfather, 
or, as she, when little, persistently said, her 'grandfather.' In 
spite of the ' dazzling, frightful sort of beauty/ she was 
preserved to be the comfort of her mother's declining years. 
So faithfully did she play the home-keeping spinster princess 
to her mother's widowed queen that people thought the role 
absorbed her energies to an unfair extent. " Cecilia's life," 
wrote Fanny Kemble, " has been one enduring devotion and 
self-sacrifice." In an unpublished letter from George Siddons, 
dated Calcutta, 25th May, 1819, the writer inquires, "Is my 
sister likely to get a mate, or is it her resolve to die a miss ? " 
Six months after Mrs. Siddons's death, Cecilia, * aged and 
thin,' appeared, to her cousin Fanny, to have lost the one 
idea of her whole life. 

About eighteen months more elapsed, and, then, Cecilia, 
aged thirty-nine, with 15, OCX), married George Combe, of 
Edinburgh, who, till about 1837, when he retired, was a 
Writer to the Signet. In 1828, Combe published a book, 
The Constitution of Man in relation to External Objects, 
which approached in circulation to the Bible, The Pilgrim's 
Progress, and Robinson Crusoe. We recall Fanny Kemble's 
statement as to ' the very decided character ' of her cousin, 
Cecilia's, face when we read that Combe had no idea of risking 
matrimony until he had thoroughly examined his lady-love's 
head, and found her ' anterior lobe to be large, her 
Benevolence, Conscientiousness, Firmness, Self-esteem, and Love 
of Approbation amply developed ; whilst her Veneration and 
Wonder were equally moderate with his own.' In consequence, 
or in spite, of these discoveries, the marriage proved happy. 
The phrenologist died in 1858; Cecilia died (without issue) on 
February ipth, 1868. 

Henry, the eldest of Mrs. Siddons's children, who, after 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 207 

the Charterhouse, was, like his sisters, sent to France, had an 
unconquerable taste for drama. At fifteen, he wrote an 
interlude called Modern Breakfast, which was acted at Mrs. 
Stephen Kemble's benefit. Five years later, he dramatised 
and, says Genest, ' dramatised most vilely ' 'Anne Radcliffe's A 
Sicilian Romance. However poor, the piece was produced at 
Covent Garden. In secondhand booksellers' we may see 
without feeling constrained to purchase a work, en titled Practical 
illustrations of rhetorical gesture and action, adapted to the English 
drama, From a work on the same subject by M. Engel, Member 
of the Royal Academy of Berlin. By Henry Siddons. 1807. 

Madame Mere strongly desired that her elder son would 
enter the Church, but the stage magnetised him, and, in the 
summer of 1801, he was acting with her in the provinces, 
preparatory to a winter season at Covent Garden. On 
October 8th, he made his first London appearance, as the hero 
of Integrity, a comedy newly adapted from the German. Ever 
diffident and nervous, young Siddons is said to have begged 
the speaker of the prologue to intercede with the audience in 
his favour, but this was refused. Strengthened by his name, 
he made a tolerably successful de"but. The letters his mother 
wrote, at the time, to Mrs. Inchbald and Mrs. Fitzhugh are 
touching in their anxiety and would-be pride, combining with 
prescience, mute, but manifest, that Harry would never become 
great. 

As a matter of fact, the 'Stranger' was the only part he 
personated with success, and that because it suited his own 
disposition, for, as Mrs. Siddons observed, he had 'a fine, 
honorable, but alas ! melancholy character.' He possessed too 
little self-confidence, or, perhaps, as some one said, too fine a 
contexture of nerve. Upon finding him described as deficient 
'in his voice, form, and face,' the commentator may question 
whether the force of deficiency could go farther. Gait, when 
quite young, saw Harry play Macbeth, at Durham, to the Lady 
Macbeth of Mrs. Siddons, and noted : 

"Through all the performance she spoke as it were in a 
suppressed voice, that seemed to lend additional poetry to the 
text. I afterwards, however, suspected that it was accidental. 
Henry Siddons, her son, who performed Macbeth, was not a 



208 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

judicious actor ; his emphasis was too boisterous, and it might 
be that she assumed the undertone . . . from a desire to 
moderate his loud vehemence ; at least, I never heard her speak 
in the same key again." 

Harry married a great-granddaughter of that John Murray 
of Broughton who, after being Prince Charles Edward's 
Secretary, became ' Mr. Evidence Murray.' The marriage was 
happy, Harriet Murray was an agreeable actress, and we need 
only to consult the first volume of Record of a Girlhood to find 
what sunshine she diffused in her home. None of the Harry 
Siddons' three children took to acting. When they were little, 
Grandmother Siddons was going to play Coriolanus, in Edin- 
burgh, and wanted to bring them (as one of them, when Mrs. 
Mair, long afterwards remembered) on the stage, but their 
father would not consent. 

It was owing to Walter Scott's cordiality that, in 1809, 
Siddons became lessee and Manager of the New Theatre 
Royal, Edinburgh, and we may guess Scott's enthusiasm when 
his friend's son produced, as his first new play, Joanna Baillie's 
The Family Legend^ propped by Mrs. Siddons. " Siddons* is a 
good lad," he told Joanna Baillie, "and deserves success." 
Even this warm backer could not away with Harry's own play, 
produced in March, 1810 "it was such a thing as if I or you 
had written it ... would have been damned seventyfold," he 
wrote to Miss Baillie. 

On April I2th, 1815, while still Edinburgh Manager, Harry 
Siddons died, of consumption, at forty-one. He left, said his 
mother, "a sphere of painful and anxious existence with which 
he was ill calculated to struggle." Mr. Leigh permits me to 
reproduce an unpublished letter (facing p. 218), addressed by 
Mrs. Siddons to Mrs. Piozzi, shortly after his death. It is a 
letter that shows an already venerably resigned attitude towards 

'Death the Skeleton 
And Time the Shadow,' 

and shows, too, Mrs. Siddons's power of writing nobly. 

Though she bore calamities with the equal mind of some 
Cornelia of old, none the less she felt them. 

In 1803, or late in 1802, her consistent patron, the Prince 



HER HUSBAND AND CHILDREN 209 

of Wales, gave her second son, George Siddons, an Indian 
cadetship, and, almost immediately after, a writership, which, 
in the interval, fell vacant. I have before me a sheet of 
voluminous MS. letters, the property of Mr. Horace Twiss, that 
were written by George, from Sumatra and Calcutta, to his 
cousin * Nol ' (Horace) Twiss. The ingrained Civilian, with his 
Anglo-Indian jests, grievances, conventional propriety, stoicism, 
and home-sickness, speaks through them. George became 
Collector of Calcutta Government Customs, and married a lady 
who, on one side, derived her blood from the Kings of Delhi. 

India was destined to absorb an extraordinary number of 
Mrs. Siddons's descendants. In Notes and Queries, for January 
1st, 1887, appeared a letter from the late Colonel H. G. F. 
Siddons, George Siddons's grandson, which showed that the 
Siddons race was, then, in no immediate danger of ceasing to 
obey the Divine injunction to replenish the earth. The courtesy 
of the Editor of Notes and Queries enables me to quote from 
this interesting document, as follows : 

"... Sarah Siddons (the tragedienne} left three children 
who married, namely, Henry, George, and Cecilia. 

" Of these, Henry married Miss Murray, and left issue (a) 
Henry Siddons, of the Bengal Engineers, who married his 
cousin, Harriott Siddons (below named), and left one child, 
Sarah Siddons, now living, unmarried. () Sarah, who married 
William Grant, of Rothiemercus, and left no issue, (c) Elizabeth, 
who married Major Mair, of Edinburgh, and left a son and four 
daughters. 

" Mrs. Siddons's second son, George, of the Bengal Civil 
Service, married Miss Fombelle, and left issue (a) Frances, who 
married Professor Horace Wilson, and left six daughters, (fr) 
George Siddons, of the Bengal Cavalry, who left one child, 
Mary, married to J. Hawtrey, and now living, (c) Harriott, 
who married her cousin, Henry Siddons, and left one child, 
Sarah Siddons, above named, (d) Sarah, who married William 
Young, of the Bengal Civil Service, is now living, and has two 
sons and two daughters, (e) Henry Siddons, of the Madras 
Cavalry, who left one child, Henry Siddons (the undersigned), 
now living, married. (/) William Siddons, of the Bengal Native 
Infantry, who left four children, all now living, namely, Mary 



210 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Scott S-iddons, who married, but resumed the name ; Harriott 
Siddons, unmarried; William Siddons of the Bengal Un- 
covenanted Service, who is married and has two daughters ; 
and Henry Siddons, unmarried, (g) Mary, who married Robert 
Thornhill, of the Bengal Civil Service, and was killed at 
Cawnpore, leaving two sons and one daughter. . . . 

HENRY G. F. SIDDONS 
Major, Royal Artillery 
Liverpool " 



XV 
FRIENDS 

APART my heroine admirably sustained, that of Mrs. 
Siddons, she enacted before two widely contrasted 
generations. Her early approver, Dr. Johnson, passed 
away with the year 1784, and the eighteenth century died 
with him. A short silence fell, and then, 

"Scattering the past about, 
Comes the new age" 

a wigless age, presided over by Wordsworth, Coleridge, and 
Byron. 

The reserve, the shut-up-ness occasional observers depre- 
cated in Mrs. Siddons disappeared when she was with the 
few people outside her family to whom she was genuinely 
attached. We have seen how warm were her expressions of 
affection towards the Whalleys. Another person she admitted 
into full confidence was Hester Lynch Piozzi, whom she 
addressed as 'my beloved friend' and 'dear soul,' while Mrs. 
Piozzi, in return, referred to her as 'dear Siddons,' 'charming 
Siddons.' When, in 1782, Mrs. Piozzi, then Mrs. Thrale, first 
met the actress, she said, in her crisp way, to her 'Tyo,' 
alluding to Mrs. Siddons's heavy manner, " This is a leaden 
goddess we are all worshipping! however, we shall soon gild 
it." Sober-sided, deliberate Mrs. Siddons and volatile, berouged 
Mrs. Thrale only became intimate after the latter was married 
(* ignominiously married,' Johnson, after the event, absurdly 
told her) to Piozzi. Mrs. Siddons did not expect to care 
much for Mrs. Piozzi, she told Lady Harcourt, in 1790, but 
an unexpectedly prolonged stay of three weeks at Streatham 
completely won her. Concerning her, Mrs. Piozzi wrote, in 



212 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

1 80 1, "the longer one knows that incomparable creature the 
more reasons spring up to esteem and love her." The two 
ladies were complementary to each other, rather than obviously 
sympathetic. Johnson's Thralia to quote Mr. Birrell's phrase 
was the older in years, Mrs. Siddons in temperament. 

The Miss Thrales appear to have been the last visitors 
admitted to Maria Siddons before she died, and Lawrence, 
who was resenting everything, hated to hear of the descent 
upon the sick-room of these * mannish women/ with their crass 
glances and ' shock'd ' inquiries. Their mother, with her tact 
of discernment, foresaw that Mr. Siddons's grief over Maria's 
death would be deeper-seated and more corroding than Mrs. 
Siddons's. 

Of all the people with whom Mrs. Siddons, in her earlier 
days, was intimately thrown, Mrs. Inchbald was the most 
interesting. She possessed far more personality than she 
could distil even into nineteen plays and that still captivating 
novel, A Simple Story. As an actress, she was, naturally, 
beside Mrs. Siddons, 'a waxen taper in the solar blaze.' 
There is a well-known story as to how, coming off the stage, 
one evening, she was about to sit next Melpomene in the 
greenroom, when, suddenly, looking at her, she exclaimed, 
" No, I won't s-s-s-sit by you ; you're t-t-t-too handsome ! " 
In her curiously unoffending candour resided a great deal of 
pretty, freckled Mrs. Inchbald's peculiar charm. The Kembles 
and Twisses all loved her, and addressed her as 'dear Muse.' 
Lamb spoke of her as the only endurable clever woman he 
had ever known. 

When Mrs. Inchbald had turned hardworking authoress, 
and Mrs. Siddons was moving among social stars of the first 
magnitude, occasional complaints were made of the latter's 
giving little to her 'old* friends save 'recollections.' Such com- 
plaints did not necessarily convict her of worldliness. "You 
know too well what a hurried life mine is, to need apology 
for this hasty, almost unintelligible scrawl," she wrote, on one 
occasion, and, with what she might well call, in writing to 
Mrs. Pennington, her ' numerous claims,' it was equally impos- 
sible for her to see the same persons often. At another time, 
we find her begging Whalley to 'impute anything to her 



FRIENDS 213 

rather than suppose that any earthly circumstance of wealth, 
or honour, or grandeur, or any other nonsense of the kind, 
could abate her esteem and love ' for him and Mrs. Whalley. 

The strongest impression derivable from Boaden's mostly 
twaddling ' Memoirs ' of Mrs. Inchbald is that of her life- 
long, self-denying frugality, which seemed uncalled for, in 
view of her considerable literary earnings. Frequent in- 
vestments in the Reduced Annuities and Long Annuities 
were her sole personal luxuries. On the other hand, she 
was ceaselessly liberal to very unsatisfactory sisters there 
was nothing in relation to her thriving, but herself, says 
her biographer. Through all her battles, she preserved her 
capacity for 'larkiness.' Aged thirty-five, she enters in her 
journal, " On the 29th of June (Sunday) dined, drank tea, 
and supped with Mrs. Whitfield. At dark, she and I and her 
son William walked out. I rapped at doors in New Street 
and King Street and ran away." Nothing sayable in few 
words, descriptively, as to Mrs. Inchbald would render her 
as clearly ' seen J as a couple of extracts from her letters. To 
her friend, Mrs. Phillips, she indited this caustic aphorism : 

" I think, in your determinations concerning your children, 
you do not sufficiently consider . . . how much more than 
upon all your poor efforts for their welfare, their success will 
depend upon chance. Still, do the best you can ; and then 
call that chance by the name of Providence, and submit to it." 

Touchingly, and freshly, in one of her later letters, she 
wrote : "It is only in the promises of the Gospel that I can 
ever hope to be young and beautiful again." 

One of Mrs. Richmond Ritchie's 'sibyls,' Mrs. Opie, was 
a fervent friend of Mrs. Siddons's, though, after she left 
8 Berners Street, upon Opie's death, in 1807, and resettled 
with her father in Norwich, there, later, to become a dove- 
grey, always pleasantly coquettish, Quakeress, she only saw 
her London intimates when she made those periodic descents 
of hers into the metropolitan whirlpool which suggest to the 
reader of her letters a vegetarian convert's lapses in the 
direction of supr ernes de votaille. Mrs. Inchbald thought Mrs. 
Opie cleverer than her books, which may well have been the 
case. The long list of her lovers and friends makes it clear 



214 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

that she was a delightful creature to be with. In 1798, John 
Opie, R.A., became her husband. Mrs. Siddons used to say, 
" I like to meet Mr. Opie ; for then I always hear something 
I did not know before." Opie's (see illustration to face p. 184) 
is the only portrait of William Siddons that has rewarded a 
diligent search. 

Opie's widow testified how warm had been her regard for 
Mrs. Siddons, when after the death of the latter being 
shown, in Sir John Soane's Museum, a plaster life cast 
(curiously open-lipped) from the retired actress's face that 
still hangs there, she broke into a passion of tears. 

Another friend of Mrs Siddons's was that woman-souled 
and man-minded little lady, Joanna Baillie. Drama was 
Miss Baillie's star, and she was dreaming of Mrs. Siddons 
when she wrote De Montfort. The description of Jane de 
Montfort's appearance, in Act II. Scene i, is a description 
of the actual Mrs. Siddons's in 1 800 : 

Lady. How looks her countenance? 

Page. So queenly, so commanding, and so noble, 

I shrunk at first in awe ; but when she smil'd, 

For so she did to see me thus abash'd, 

Methought I could have compass'd sea and land 

To do her bidding. 

Lady. Is she young or old ? 

Page. Neither, if right I guess ; but she is fair : 

For Time hath laid his hand so gently on her, 

As he too had been aw'd. 

Lady. Is she large in stature? 

Page. So stately and so graceful is her form, 

I thought at first her stature was gigantic; 

But on a near approach I found, in truth, 

She scarcely does surpass the middle size 
as she moves 

Wide flows her robe in many a waving fold, 

As I have seen unfurled banners play 

With a soft breeze." 

Though De Montfort failed to grip the public, Mrs. Siddons 
naturally loved the glorified herself that was her part in it. 
" Make me some more Jane de Montforts ! " she said to Joanna 
Baillie. 

In her Recollections of the Past> Mrs. Mair preserves the 
record of a religious correspondence that passed between 



FRIENDS 215 

Joanna Baillie and Mrs. Siddons, in later life. The former 
had seen cause to modify her early view on some minor tenets 
of orthodoxy, a fact she thought it right to communicate to 
so near a friend. Mrs. Siddons received the news of the 
changes in her outlook, not uncharitably, but with the 
characteristic parenthesis, " I still hold fast my own faith 
without wavering." 

Hannah More's is a name which, particularly during its 
bearer's mundane first period, belonged to the Garrick circle. 
At several points, later, it impinged on the orbit of Sarah 
Siddons. The lady whom, in 1781, Mrs. Garrick called her 
Chaplain, resembled Mrs. Opie in becoming, as time went 
on, more avowedly 'strict.' By 1787, she refused to go to 
see her own tragedy, Percy^ when it was revived, even with 
that paragon of decorum, Mrs. Siddons, as its heroine. From 
letters included in their respective biographies we find that 
Mrs. Siddons's 'affectionate friend, Hannah More,' used to 
send her copies of her works, and further 'encourage and 
cheer' her way (the quoted words are Mrs. Siddons's) ( to 
the better world.' 

" I have heard," Miss More wrote to her, from Barley 
Wood, in 1811, "that you consider the Bible as your 
treasure. May it continue to be your guide through life, and 
your support in that inevitable hour which awaits us all. It 
has pleased God to bless my little book [probably, a new 
edition of Sacred Dramas] with a degree of success which I 
had no reason to expect." 

Anna Seward burnt voluminous incense before Mrs. 
Siddons. With a letter, inviting her, on her way from Bir- 
mingham, to stay a few days at Lichfield, or, in Sewardian 
diction, entreating the honour of the Siddons sleeping beneath 
her roof, she enclosed a twelve-lined sonnet (addressed by 
the Same to the Same) which had * descended,' she said, that 
morning, ' from her pen.' 

"Behold, dividing still the palm of Fame, 
Her radiant Science, and her spotless Life ! " 

thus, for an inflated 'Swan/ rather neatly, she wound up 
the lines. The Swan of Lichfield came, at times, so perilously 



216 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

near writing herself down its goose, that we are apt to under- 
value sound and shrewd observations that, betweenwhiles, 
' descended ' to employ again her mountebank phraseology 
from her tireless pen and tongue. 

Like Joanna Baillie, Maria Edgeworth, and other ladies 
of original minds and irreproachable morals, Mrs. Siddons 
visited at the house of Sir Ralph and Lady Noel Milbanke 
(afterwards Noel), and became interested in their reticent, 
almond-eyed daughter, "almost the only young, pretty, 
well-dressed girl we ever saw who carried no cheerfulness 
along with her." 1 To Mrs. Siddons, at the close of 1814, 
Annabel Milbanke wrote to announce her engagement to 
Byron, and her letter, noted Mrs. Siddons's granddaughter, 
Mrs. Mair, who owned it, was ' so full of hope that the results 
which so soon followed seemed sad indeed.' The best 
sympathetic account of Lady Byron the Lady Annabel 
Herbert of Disraeli's Venetia to be met with forms one of 
Harriet Martineau's 'Biographical Sketches' (1868). Lady 
Byron had strong private-life admiration for Mrs. Siddons, 
and, with Lady Noel, both visited her, and was visited by 
her at the Noels' house at Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire. 

Of all Mrs. Siddons's friends, the most adoring was Mrs. 
William Fitzhugh. She was a sister of the William Hamilton 
who rescued the Rosetta Stone from the French, shipped the 
Elgin Marbles for England, and became the official successor, 
after an interval of twenty-two years, of a better known name- 
sake at the court of Naples. For years, Mrs. Fitzhugh played 
henchwoman to Mrs. Siddons. In London, she tried to be 
with her all day, and spent the evening in her dressing-room 
at the theatre. She corresponded incessantly with her, and 
never willingly let a year pass without entertaining her at 
her husband's place, Bannister Lodge, near Southampton. 
From there, in 1803, Mrs. Siddons wrote to the Galindos : 
"... My dear Mrs. Fitzhugh grudges every moment that 
I am not by her side." For her was painted Lawrence's 
' handsome dark cow ' whole-length of Mrs. Siddons reading 
Paradise Lost, which Mrs. Siddons, strange to say, thought 

1 The Literary Life of the Rev. William Harness. By the Rev. A. G. 
L'Estrange, 23. 1871. 



FRIENDS 217 

'more really like' her 'than anything that has been done.' 
The portrait was in the Bannisters dining-room, where Fanny 
Kemble used to sit under it, when she, in her turn, went there 

on visits to * comical old . . . Mrs. F a not very judicious 

person,' and ' Mrs. F 's ' daughter, Emily, who was Fanny's 

great friend. To Mrs. Fitzhugh were committed Mrs. 
Siddons's 'Remarks' on Lady Macbeth, and by her they 
were handed over to Campbell, for inclusion in the official 
biography. Mrs. Fitzhugh's husband sat in five Parliaments for 
Tiverton. In the following unpublished letter (placed at 
my disposal by Mr. Horace Twiss) Mrs. Siddons is endeavour- 
ing to make the most of his interest on behalf of her nephew. 
A true aunt's letter, its recommendation of ' Self esteem ' is 
a delightful Kemble touch : 

"[1809?] Sunday night, Twelve tf clock 

" MY DEAR HORACE, I have had a great deal of talk with 
Mr. F : about you, and whatever it is, that is in meditation I 
am quite sure that his report will be favourable ; I pray God 
that it may be efficacious ! You will be invited to dinner soon 
and I need not suggest to you to remember (with modesty and 
sobriety) that 'oftimes nothing profits more than Self esteem 
grounded on just and right.' 

"You know my dear Horace how much your honor and 
welfare interest me and therefore you will excuse me for desir- 
ing you to remember that Mr. Fitzhugh is a wise, Steady- 
headed man, and I shoud imagine him very likely to take 
disgust at any little flippancy or frivolity that a thousand others 
would overlook and excuse as the overflowing of youthful 
spirits, And ' oh reform it altogether.' 

" God bless and prosper you ! S. S. 

" Mrs. F. still insists that she has often askd you to call, and 
mentioned particularly, having done so when she met you one 
evening at Mrs. Opie's. when I told her I was sure some 
mistake must have prevented you from availing yourself of 
what I was quite sure you would recieve as an honor and a 
gratification She said the servants were so negligent that it 
was not impossible that you might have calld, and they having 
mislaid your Card, and you finding no notice taken of your visit, 
had naturally thought no more about it. I said it was very 
likely to be so And so now you may call or not as seems 
best to your own feeling." 



218 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

A better known name in the list Campbell gives of persons 
he saw oftenest at Mrs. Siddons's, during her last fifteen years, 
is that of Sir George and Lady Beaumont. A prominent 
picture collector, a member of the Society of Dilettanti, a man 
to be thought of with Lock of Norbury, and Hope of 'the 
Deep Dene,' himself an amateur artist of taste, albeit obsessed 
by his 'brown tree,' Sir George Beaumont is best entitled to 
remembrance because, had he never painted his picture of 
Peele Castle, in a Storm, we might have missed one of the 
most beautiful of English poems. No less than ten of the out- 
pourings of Wordsworth's muse are concerned either with 
Beaumont or his domain at Coleorton, Leicestershire. A 
collateral descendant of the dramatist of his name, Sir 
George had an innate love of drama, and we understand 
the attraction that led him to Mrs. Siddons's house, when we 
read (in Wordsworth's ' Elegiac Musings ' over his departed 
friend's diffident, self-chosen epitaph) l how he could give, in 
reading Shakespeare to a circle, 

' with eye, voice, mien, 
More than theatric force to Shakspeare's scene.' 

We have seen how little cause Mrs. Siddons had to like the 
waspish Steevens. Another editor of Shakespeare, of whose 
friendship she was, on the contrary, proud, was Edmond 
Malone, and of his strongly contrasted 'elegance' (i.e. 
suavity) of manner both she and Kemble used to talk 
admiringly. 

In Campbell's list of the habitues of Mrs. Siddons's drawing- 
room we find the name of the Rev. Sydney Smith whom 
Amelia Opie called the ever welcome. It is pleasant to know 
that the hostess's renowned seriousness was no repelling force 
for the rational, benevolent, and gladsome Dr. Anti-Cant who 
said that ' the gods do not bestow such a face as Mrs. Siddons' 
on the stage more than once in a century.' In an ' Edinburgh ' 
of 1809, we find Sydney Smith less informally lauding her, in 
her public capacity, in these words : " Where is every feeling 
more roused in favour of virtue than at a good play ? Where 
is goodness so feelingly, so enthusiastically learnt? What 
1 "Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord!" 



FRIENDS 219 

so solemn as to see the excellent passions of the human heart 
called forth by a great actor, animated by a great poet ? To 
hear Siddons repeat what Shakspeare wrote?" The first time 
Sydney Smith met Mrs. Siddons, he amused her so much that 
she, albeit unused to the shaking mood, threw herself back, 
and laughed so heartily and lengthily, "that it made quite a 
scene, and all the company were alarmed." 

Among Mrs. Siddons's regular callers was the chartered 
punster, Joseph Jekyll. Jekyll's wit, said Rogers, was of the 
kind which amused only for a moment. He cited, in proof, 
that when the eccentric and kleptomaniac Lady Cork (erst- 
while, the Hon. Mary Monckton and Dr. Johnson's dearest 
dunce) appeared in an enormous plume, Jekyll remarked, ' she 
was exactly a shuttlecock all cork and feathers.' Among the 
tea-cups and wax lights of one of Lady Cork's parties, Mrs. 
Siddons and Jekyll first met, and Campbell gives a sparkling 
letter from the latter to the former, referring to the occasion, in 
terms that must have been strained, since they adumbrate his 
correspondent as a queen of banter. 

William Harness, Vicar of All Saints', Knightsbridge, was a 
familiar friend of the Kemble group, especially of Mrs. Siddons. 
He edited Shakespeare, and, after his death, a memorial to his 
memory took the form of a prize founded at Cambridge for the 
study of Shakespearean literature. He was one of that ever 
winning type of clergymen who avowedly take the optimist view 
of the world and life. Dilexit multum. 

Byron's first words to Harness, then a pale little newcomer 
to Harrow, were, " If any fellow bullies you, tell me; and I'll 
thrash him if I can." We are bound to love Harness because 
he loved Byron, and, unlike Lady Byron, knew how to manage 
him, and bring out his best. " There can be no doubt," said he, 
" that Byron was a little ' maddish.' " 

Among the more distinguished of Mrs. Siddons's admirers 
was the Hon. Thomas Erskine, afterwards Baron Erskine and 
Lord Chancellor. His dates (1750-1823) nearly synchronise 
with hers, and a letter, signed A B, in the Courier of August 
26th, 1823, states, on one knows not what authority, that 
Tom Erskine 'and a few literary friends at the bar' were 
instrumental in her removal from Bath, in 1782, back to the 



220 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

wider sphere of Drury Lane. Fanny Burney has told how 
Erskine ' boomed ' Mrs. Siddons and in Mrs. Siddons's presence 
at Miss Monckton's, in 1782, talking, across her, of her artistic 
excellences. He was, at all events, so much more tactful in 
praise than the surrounding ' blues,' that Mrs. Siddons, in her 
account of this Sunday evening menagerie, described his 
' benevolent politeness ' as a relief and deliverance from the 
other guests' cruder lionisation. 

Few men, belonging to the modern world, have had a 
more meteoric career than Erskine, and more forcibly dominated 
people and circumstances by sheer cleverness. It was no 
lesser leaf in our actress's laurel crown of eulogies from the 
great that this incomparable advocate, whose ' little twelvers' 
in the jury-box found it, said Brougham, impossible to look 
away from him when once riveted by his glance and first 
word, should have declared that from Mrs. Siddons he learnt 
his effective cadences and modulations of voice. 

A story told by Whalley further associates Erskine's name 
with Mrs. Siddons's. One evening, in the Brussels theatre, 
during the winter of 1786-87, Whalley, fresh from reading 
Lavater, was gazing at the faces round, ' by Lavater's rules/ 
His physiognomic interest presently became concentrated on 
a gentleman, who, taking a place by him, began talking to 
him, in French, of the stage generally, and, before long, of 
Mrs. Siddons. Whalley observed 

" that she shone [it was his happy illusion] both in tragedy 
and in comedy, and that she was not only eminent on the stage, 
but irreproachable in her private character, elegant in her 
address, and in her conversation showed a fine and cultivated 
understanding. They both agreed that it was not common 
for persons so to shine in different stations and accomplish- 
ments, although there was indeed, said Mr. Whalley, an instance 
of the same person shining in different professions (navy, army, 
and law) the English Erskine. ' Erskine ? ' said the gentle- 
man ; ' I am Erskine ! ' ' 

By an incident, conveying rich indications to the Comic 
Spirit (as defined by George Meredith), Mrs. Siddons suddenly 
became, not only a friend, but, in the phrase of ' George 
Fasten, 1 a * Mascotte,' to impracticable, fighting Haydon. 



FRIENDS 221 

Haydon, so much more salient a writer than a painter, 
gives the incident in his autobiography, where it forms the 
culmination of his story of a desperate artist's hopes, fears, 
and preparations for making known what he believed his 
masterpiece. This was Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, ex- 
hibited, in 1820, at the Egyptian Hall, as a one-man, and 
one-picture, show. Every occurrence, even in the hanging 
of the picture, is given in Haydon's intense narration. Duns 
were pressing, patrons weary, Academy folk hostile, or cold. 
At last, the critical Saturday, Private View Day, arrived. 
During the earlier morning, the artist went into the Egyptian 
Hall, and, to his mortification, found no one but the attendants. 
When, at half-past twelve, he stole in again, and heard that 
Sir William Scott had been in, his spirits revived. "He 
always brings everybody." By half-past three, there was 
a steady stream of the society world, and Haydon (after two 
glasses of sherry) hastened inside, mingling with 'princes of 
the blood, bishops, and noblemen.' From the Persian Envoy, 
who exclaimed, " I like the elbow of soldier," everybody 
praised something. But, as yet, no definite opinion was to 
be heard on the * unorthodox ' chief figure. In the middle of 
the afternoon, Enter Mrs. Siddons. 

A silence fell on the crowd, while the still magnificent- 
looking woman Mike a Ceres or a Juno/ says Haydon 
contemplated the picture. Then, Sir George Beaumont 
timidly asked her, " How do you like the Christ ? " and 
everybody waited. After a moment, she said, in her deep, 
distinct voice, " It is completely successful." At this, Haydon 
was presented, and, in the same tones, she added, now speaking 
to him, "The paleness gives it a supernatural look." Simple 
words, but they turned the scale. They were repeatable. 
The success of the exhibition was secured. It is, in passing, 
interesting to find that Mrs. Siddons's prestige her glamour 
in the eyes of society so long outlasted her retirement from 
the stage. 

Haydon wrote his delighted gratitude to Mrs. Siddons 
(whom he addressed as 'great high priestess at the shrine of 
Nature') and, in reply, received a pressing invitation to call. 
Thus, he describes the visit : 



222 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

" It was like speaking to the mother of the gods. I told 
her when a boy I had crept below the orchestra door at 
Plymouth theatre, and squeezed up underneath the stage box 
... to see her perform the Mother in Lillo's ' Cornish Tragedy.' 
She was pleased." 

Afterwards, he besought ' the mother of the gods ' to come, 
whenever a picture of his was * exhibiting/ In 1846, he was 
buried where he had buried his children, near the grave of 
Mrs. Siddons in Paddington ' new ' churchyard. His life had 
been, in Mrs. Browning's phrase, 'one long agony of self- 
assertion/ 

Thomas Campbell, introduced to Mrs. Siddons by Charles 
Moore, became the favourite friend of her declining years. 
In spite of the sloppiness and omissions of his ' Life ' of her, 
and although Mrs. Mair found he 'had lost the power of 
reproducing, what long intimacy should have enabled him to 
do,' our knowledge of Mrs. Siddons, especially during her 
latest period, would be very considerably less, lacking his 
personal memories. 

In P. G. Patmore's My Friends and Acquaintance it is 
stated that Campbell never did more for the Life of Mrs. 
Siddons^ nominally his, than * overlook the manuscript ' and 
c look over the proof-sheets/ This statement was, to an extent, 
disproved by a correspondence between Campbell and the 
Rev. Thomas Price, published in the ' Literary Remains ' of 
the latter. 'The poet Campbell' took a considerable amount 
of trouble over a task he performed in heaviness. Always a 
man of laborious finish, by 1832 his dilatoriness had become 
a vice. Also, the lapse of time had dimmed the impression 
of the elastic day, when, as Mrs. Mair records, he was heard 
suddenly to say to her grandmother, "O what a privilege it 
would be to be allowed to write your life," and Mrs. Siddons's 
reply was, " Then you shall do it." Campbell, certainly, tried, 
at the end of 1832, to engage J. P. Collier to collaborate with 
him, but Collier, scenting much work in the proposal and 
seeing little profit Campbell offered 100 refused. 

Kemble origins and his heroine's early circumstances 
especially worried as Campbell says, 'distressed' him, and 
his quest after something to fill his first chapter led him into 



FRIENDS 223 

two or three of those operose excursions into the needless of 
which our grandsires were so much more tolerant in books 
than we are. About eleven weeks after Mrs. Siddons's death, 
the author of Hohenlinden opened a correspondence with that 
amiable Vicar of Crickhowel who to the vulgar was known 
as Thomas Price, but Carnhuanawc in the world of Bards. 
Campbell told Price that he was 'obliged at Mrs. Siddonss 
bequest to write a memoir/ and that he was graveled for lack of 
matter relating to Brecon. Regarding birthplace, he inquired, 

"The family of the Kembles cannot inform me in what 
particular house or street of the town she was born Is any 
tradition respecting her preserved in the place ? . . . Something 
is whispered about her having been born in a house most 
vulgarly called the haunch of mutton." 

To this and further inquiries Campbell's * learned Cambrian 
friend' sent an ample reply, and enclosed a drawing (facing 
p. 2) of Mrs. Siddons's birth-house, as he could remember it 
before it was rebuilt. 

In his exhilaration at raking in so much stuff to spread 
over his pages, Campbell " felt as if he had known " his 
correspondent "twenty years." He went on to describe him- 
self as ' Mrs. Siddons's biographical undertaker/ which sounds 
like an adverse augury for what he wished, he said, to make 
'a light popular book.' Three months later, he was still 
in pursuit of copy for the first chapter, and, by that time, 
had run down the Catholic martyr, Father Kemble, as to 
whose end he only wished he could prove he had been 
burnt, and not hanged. 

When her daughters were marriageable, and even earlier, 
Mrs. Siddons gave evening parties. Thus, in 1791, she "did 
the honours of her house to fifty people, till near 2 in the 
morning," and, twice, during 1805, Mrs. Inchbald was her 
guest at a dinner, followed by a rout. 1 In Mr. Hardy's 
drama of nations, The Dynasts, in the scene at Windsor, 
after the doctors have visited King George in his padded 
room, Sir Henry Halford breaks up their consultation with 
the words, " I want to get back to town. . . . Mrs. Siddons has 

1 Inchbald, ii. 80. Mrs. Inchbald usually dined with the Siddonses on 
Christmas Day. 



224 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

a party at her house at Westbourne to-night, and all the 
world is going to be there." Merely predatory lion-hunters 
Mrs. Siddons avoided like ' Dictionary Johnson ' with 
animus, but she delighted to consort with people with 
ideas. 

In her intervals of leisure, she stayed a great deal at 
'seats.' Half her letters seem dated from this Park or 
t'other Rectory. Seven successive Christmases were spent 
with the Earl and Countess of Arran, at Arran Lodge, 
Bognor; at the Earl of Darnley's, at Cobham Hall, where 
she conversed with Prince Leopold and H.R.H. the Duchess 
of Kent, her seventy-second birthday was (too fatiguingly 
for her) celebrated with Shakespearean and musical honours, 
and twenty-three people at dinner. All this was gratifying, 
yet one feels convinced that, with her deep feeling for associ- 
ation and her sentiment of continuity, the house in which 
she loved best to recruit (in Campbell's phrase) her impaired 
stamina was Guy's Cliffe, 'that truly charming, and to me 
uncommonly interesting place,' as she called it. 

The last entry for 1809 in Windham's Diary is as follows: 
" Dr. Ferris . . . sent over . . . Mrs. Galando's ' Letters ' ; 
a foolish slander, as it seems, against Mrs. Siddons." Though 
Mrs. Siddons's entire circle, and all other people of sense, 
took the same view as Windham, r Affaire Galindo caused 
Mrs. Siddons so much vexation, that, small and base in 
itself, it has to be described, and, perhaps, both to biographer 
and reader, may be allowed one passing gleam of wicked 
gratification at its disclosure of a sporadic vanity and 
obtuseness in one so generally impeccable as ' S. Siddons.' 

In 1809, appeared a pamphlet, bearing, for title, Mrs. 
Galindo 's letter to Mrs. Siddons: being a circumstantial detail 
of Mrs. Siddons^ s life for the last seven years ; with several of 
her letters. The pamphlet was no less than an allegation 
of misconduct on the part of Mrs. Siddons and Mrs. Galindo's 
husband. It proved nothing beyond the irresponsible and 
violent nature of its writer. 

In a career, relatively, most tranquil, Mrs. Siddons had, 
before 1809, already weathered a number of accusations. 
As she said in 1786, she stood 'some knocks with tolerable 



FRIENDS 225 

firmness.' But the venomous Galindo pamphlet embodied 
a new order of calumny. It was an attack upon the 
'character' of a woman whose 'character' was her crown 
and aegis, a woman with whom a man could no more fall 
guiltily in love than with the Decalogue, a woman whose 
presence was as instant a check on loose behaviour as Lady 
Elizabeth Hastings's, a woman who had delivered to the 
madcap who, one night, boarded her carriage as she was 
leaving the theatre, the restorative, if somewhat blatant, 
caution, "Mr. Sheridan, I trust that you will behave with 
all propriety ; if you do not, I shall immediately let down the 
glass, and desire the servant to show you out." And, now, 
'the Majestic Siddons, to whom none dared express admira- 
tion* (I quote the words of a contemporary Drury Lane 
player), in the autumn of her beauty, large, august, and 
matronly, was categorically charged with having caused 
red ruin in the home of Mrs. Galindo, a minor tragedienne, 
known as Miss Gough 'sepulchral Gough,' Croker called 
her in his youthful verses on Dublin performers. 

Galindo, described as a personable, fine - limbed man, 
young enough to be Mrs. Siddons's son, was a fencing- 
master, in Bath. When his wife secured an engagement at 
the Crow Street Theatre, he moved with her to Dublin, 
and, during the earlier stage of the affair, he and she were 
living there, in Leinster Street, with their young family, 
and keeping a curricle and pair. We need not believe, with 
the author of a tract, entitled Strictures on Mrs. Galindo's 
Curious Letter to Mrs. Siddons ; that the behaviour of the 
Galindos was a plot on their part for the purpose of raising 
the wind, though the fact that Mrs. Galindo charged five 
shillings for her pamphlet of eighty pages looks as though 
she expected from it the harvest of a scandalous success. 

During Mrs. Siddons's Irish engagements of 1802-3, when 
the intimacy commenced, as well as later, when she was, 
temporarily, at Hampstead, and the Galindos had come to 
London, in anticipation of the Covent Garden engagement 
she had promised Mrs. Galindo, she undoubtedly allowed 
herself to be, to a ridiculous extent, accaparee by the pair, 
particularly by the husband. She let him give her fencing 




226 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

lessons, she let him at a later date borrow 1000 of her 
(unknown to Mr. Siddons) for the purpose of setting him up 
in the part proprietorship of the new Manchester Theatre, 
she let him drive her about alone in Mrs. Galindo's curricle, 
a vehicle round which the action of this unimportant comedy 
seems to centre. It may be noted that in the selfsame year, 
1802, when some of these indiscretions were being committed 
in Ireland, Mrs. Siddons had just been passing through a 
phase of weak philandering with Lawrence in London. She 
was forty-seven, and though, at that climacteric, the hey-day 
in the blood is tame, and waits upon the judgment, it is 
equally an age when, with maturity about to sink, often 
reluctantly enough, into elderliness, some final ebullience 
of feminine foolishness may, perhaps, be allowed for. No 
doubt, Galindo did sit adoring her, 1 and, no doubt, the 
attitude was 'rather disgusting' 2 to his jealous, brooding 
wife, but, certainly, there was egregious silliness in the follow- 
ing conclusion of a letter of Mrs. Siddons's to him, dated 
October i8th, 1803: "I have time only to add that I hope 
you do not swear, and that you keep your beautiful hands 
very clean ; remember me to pretty Julio [one of the curricle 
horses], and now good night." Another sentence, equally 
unworthy, from the same letter, ran thus : " Oh ! I have 
suffered too much from a husband's unkindness, not to detest 
the man who treats a creature ill that depends on her husband 
for all her comforts." 

Long before the defamatory ' letter ' appeared, Mrs. Siddons 
had had cause to regret her flash of superannuated vanity. 
When, in 1803, Kemble returned from Spain, he went to Mrs. 
Inchbald, * like a madman,' saying that his sister had been 
* imposed on by persons, whom it was a disgrace to her to 
know! and begging Mrs. Inchbald ' to explain it so to her.' It 
is clear that even John Philip, through whom Charles Kemble 
used to ask trembling favours of her, dared not ( stand up to ' 
Mrs. Siddons, when it came to a fight. In 1809, Mrs. Galindo 
published her imagined or pretended wrongs, and the press 
stated, in its garbling way, that "John and Charles Kemble 
have almost on their knees prayed Mrs. Siddons to prosecute 

1 Mrs. Galindo's letter, 70. 2 Ibid. 



FRIENDS 227 

the parties, but she has peremptorily refused to do so, saying 
that it is contrary to the principles of her religion? A more 
accurate account of the family's attitude, and her own, concern- 
ing what she described to Whalley as ' this diabolical business/ 
is obtainable from an unpublished letter written by her to her 
nephew. Fortitude in difficulties was one of her strong 
qualities. 

" MY DEAR HORACE, Patty tells me, you have been urging 
the Prosecution of these people which surprisd me a good deal 
now in the first place, It is the opinion, I do assure you upon 
my honor, of all my friends, that it would be lowering myself, 
to enter the lists with persons, the indecency of whose characters 
is become so notorious, and in the next place, what would be 
the result of a Prosecution Damages or Imprisonment I suppose, 
and in failure of the first, what should I gain by inflicting the 
second ? There are three children all under nine years old, too, 
that must be reduced in either case to a state of wretchedness, 
and perhaps absolute want of bread besides all which, they 
have already cost me too much money, and what's more 
important, too much tranquility, to renew a subject so Shoking, 
and I thank God, that all my friends without one exception, are 
decidedly of opinion, that it is as unnecessary, as it would be 
HUMILIATING, HARRASSING, and EXPENSIVE. In that my 
nerves have been so Shattered by former afflictions and the 
agitations of the last four Months, that I really believe my 
health would sink completely, were they to be continued ; I am 
certain I can endure no more, without the most serious conse- 
quences ; and I must take care of myself for the sake of a few 
to whom my health is perhaps of more importance than it is to 
myself. 

" There is no species of suffering that I woud [not] prefer to 
encountering the horrible indecency of that wretched woman, 
whom every one supposes to be quite mad, too. . . . Show this 
to your father and mother and now my dear Horace Speed you 
well." 



XVI 

HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER IN 
MATURITY 

THE idea of a double life using the phrase with no 
prejudicial construction comes uppermost in one's 
mind-picture of a distinguished player. To a more 
obvious extent than in the case of any other actress known to 
history, Mrs. Siddons was, on and off the stage, ' two different 
people/ On the stage, she was a Pythoness, nightly hypnotised 
into passionate emotions by the sight of the drop-curtain and 
the boards. In her home, she was, at all events to the casual 
observer, more than a thought too much a mere mother and 
British matron, loving to be seemly and of good report, shut in 
the tower of an unimaginative nature. Had she not been an 
actress, she would have made (such an observer might have said) 
an ideal Bishop's lady. Barchester would have been glad of 
her. 

Yet signs are not lacking that the temperament and pro- 
fession of a player modified Mrs. Siddons's attitude towards the 
concerns of actual existence. Her letters to Whalley, Mrs. 
Pennington, and others leave little doubt that the ingrained 
practice of impersonating tragic characters induced tragedy 
ways of looking at the more serious incidents of her own life 
and the lives around her, and what was more insidious set 
up a habit of confounding important issues with sentimental, 
exaggerated, 'pretend' issues. Especially in the relations 
between herself, her elder daughter, and Lawrence, after the 
death of Maria, there is evidence of the existence of both these 
relaxing effects of her vocation upon her commerce with life. 
Thanks to her inheritance of common sense, she suffered from 
neither as acutely as the generality of players: but, all the 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 229 

same, it would have been impossible for her totally to escape 
that subtle disintegration of the sense of association which is, 
and must be, produced by perpetually weeping without sorrow, 
embracing without love, stabbing without anger, and dying 
without dread. Her constant simulation of emotion did not 
impair her faculty for genuine feeling. What it impaired in 
her case, to a relatively slight extent was the discernment of 
whether feeling was employed proportionately, or disproportion- 
ately, to the exciting cause. 

Artists, in whatever genre and of whatever grade, reap from 
their calling one supreme benefit, i.e. a facility, while exercising 
their art, to throw off the pressure of personal evils. Even their 
children are secondary interests. " I love my wife," wrote 
Stevenson, in a letter, " I do not know how much, nor can, nor 
shall, unless I lost her, but though I could imagine myself 
without my wife, I could not imagine myself without my art." 
Johnson, it may be remembered, complained of Garrick that, 
because 'the little Dog' was an actor, out of sight was, with 
him, out of mind, and there was shrewd instinct in the 
observation. 

During the years now under contemplation, viz. from 
about 1790 to 1812, Mrs. Siddons had, broadly speaking, left 
behind her first period of melodrama, and was fulfilling her 
second by far the longer period of Shakespearean heroic 
characters, demanding largo of execution. The towering 
criminality of Lady Macbeth, the primitive exultation of 
Volumnia, the lofty indignation of Queen Katharine were the 
full flowers of her art. People who saw her at forty-five, and 
had not seen her eighteen years earlier, might, probably, think 
her gifted to agitate and awe rather than to charm and win. 
As beautiful, in girlhood, as Leighton's captive Andromache, 
in maturity, as the Sacerdotessa Eumachia at Naples, Greece 
or Rome seemed her native country, and she truly, was, as the 
satin scroll presented to Kemble, on June 23, 1817, declared 
her brother, ' every where contemporary with the august edifices 
of the ancient world.' 

And yet, so wide and certain was her sweep, she could still, 
when she willed, suspend the lava flow of great passions, and 
melt the heart with touches of the tender feminine sorrow, 



230 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

conjugal or maternal, on which her fame had originally been 
founded. Living persons have heard it said by them of old 
time that no man who saw Mrs. Siddons in her meridian ever 
pronounced her name without a tone and manner more softened 
and raised than his habitual discourse, and Hazlitt thought 
what, indeed, can hardly be doubted that the enthusiasm she 
excited had something idolatrous about it. In Crabb Robin- 
son's Diary, we find, under " 1828, February /th" : 

" I read one of the most worthless books of biography in 
existence Boaden's ( Life of Mrs. Siddons.' Yet it gave me 
very great pleasure. Indeed, scarcely any of the finest 
passages in ' Macbeth ' or ' Henry vm ' or ' Hamlet,' could 
delight me so much as such a sentence as, 'This evening 
Mrs. Siddons performed Lady Macbeth, or Queen Katharine, 
or the Queen Mother/ for these names operated on me then 
as they do now, in recalling the yet unfaded image of that most 
marvellous woman, to think of whom is now a greater enjoy- 
ment than to see any other actress." 

The premier element in Mrs. Siddons's influence never to 
be overlooked, but difficult for any one of a later age to keep 
fixedly before the mind's eye was her extraordinary personal 
loveliness. 

Less justly to ' other women ' en bloc than to the queen of 
the stage, Boaden remarks, " there was a male dignity in the 
understanding of Mrs. Siddons that raised her above the helpless 
timidity of other women." The self-command that enabled her 
to read prayers by her dying daughter's bedside, 'with the 
utmost clearness, accuracy, and fervor,' helped her to the 
intrepidity she unfailingly displayed in stage accidents. One 
evening, in 1809, when she was playing Lady Macbeth, at 
* Brighthelmstone/ and Charles Kemble, as Macbeth, threw the 
cup from him, in the banquet scene, with such violence that 
it broke the heavy arm of a glass chandelier on the table, very 
near her face, which, if struck, would have been seriously 
injured, she sat as if made of marble. A more serious danger 
menaced her when, playing Hermione, in 1802, she might have 
been burnt, in the statue scene, but for the promptitude of 
a scene-shifter, who, crawling towards her, extinguished the 
flames curling round her muslin drapery. Him, by the way, 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 231 

she not only rewarded with money, but by exerting her utmost 
influence to obtain remission of the sentence of flogging passed 
on his son, a military deserter. Peril by fire only threatened, 
whereas the first time she acted Desdemona in London, she 
actually contracted acute rheumatism from lying, in Act V., 
between damp sheets. 

After the habit of her family, Mrs. Siddons, who, when 
young, showed no tendency towards 'the embonpoint! grew 
massive with the thickening years. Every child of man is 
subject to ignominious accident, but it needed all Mrs. Siddons's 
dignity to 'ease off' in 1808, a grievously ludicrous situation, 
caused by a chair, set for her Queen Katharine, not proving 
wide enough, so that, when she rose, it adhered closely to her. 
A slighter disaster was created, on another occasion, by an 
ignorant lad, who, being sent, on a sultry night, to fetch her 
a pint of ale, brought it, foaming, on the stage, and presented 
it to Lady Macbeth, in the sleep-walking scene. Mischances 
of this sort were apter to occur at a time when stage subordinates 
the plebs of the theatre, as Fanny Kemble termed them 
were more uncivilised than nowadays. 

At a date when the Mob had not yet grown into the People, 
every actress had, at times, to nerve herself to face the music, 
not only of cat-calls, but of actual battles at the footlights. 
Thoughts of pugilism were never far off; Lamb has told us 
there could scarcely be promise of a stage fight without the pit, 
'as their manner is/ seeming disposed to make a ring. If 
anything in the history of theatres little repays attention, 
except from the antiquarian specialist, it is theatrical rioting, 
the bursting out of bonds of the lawless, and, frequently, 
irrelevant feelings of the more demonstrative parts of the 
house. Nevertheless, a sketch of Mrs. Siddons's circumstances 
in her golden days would be incomplete if it included no notice 
of the notorious ' O.P. row ' of 1809. 

The first stone of Smirke's new Covent Garden was laid, by 
the Prince of Wales, on December 3Oth, 1808 an uncompro- 
misingly wet day that soaked silk-stockinged, bare-headed 
Kemble to the skin, sowed seeds of lasting illness in Thomas 
Harris, and uncurled Mrs. Siddons's plume of black feathers. 

During the ensuing spring and summer, ' like some tall 



232 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

palm ' the stately ' fabric sprung/ and Boaden rivals Alfred 
Jingle in his ecstatic mention of 'the amazing structure the 
vast patronage the private boxes the now unquestionable 
increase of prices/ The last item begs the question of the 
O.P. disturbances. 

The enormous expense of the new erection, viz. 1 50,000 l 
(only in part justified by the dearness of building materials 
at the time), led the proprietors to increase the prices of 
admission to the open boxes, from 6s. to 7s., to the pit, 
from 33. 6d. to 43. They turned the whole third tier into 
twenty-eight private, or 'annual' boxes, each at a rental 
of 300, and, to entice noble patrons from the Opera, they 
engaged the flute-voiced Roman, Catalani, to sing two nights 
weekly. The new gallery, meanwhile, had solid divisions 
obstructive to sight, and so steep a rake that its occupants 
could see only the legs of performers far back on the stage. 
These innovations, combined, were the grievances that brought 
about the O.P. (Old Prices) Riots. It is possible to peruse 
hundreds of pages that consecutively describe this curious 
strife. The fullest account is given in a pamphlet skit, entitled 
The Rebellion, or All in the Wrong \ the next fullest, in an 
anonymous ' Life ' of Kemble, ' interspersed with [scurrilous] 
Family and Theatrical Anecdotes/ published during the 
progress of the riots, with a ludicrous frontispiece by one of 
the Cruikshanks. 

The new Covent Garden opened on Monday, September 
1 8th, with Macbeth and The Quaker. The house was 
crammed, "but," says Lawrence, in a letter to Farington, 
"presented a formidable appearance for the Women being 
so thinly sprinkled." 2 The instant Kemble appeared, as 
Macbeth, he was greeted with hisses, hoots, and groans, and, 

1 " A vast expense was incurred in building and furnishing the new theatre, amount- 
ing to 300,000, and upwards, and at the time of opening, in 1809, there was a debt 
due from the proprietors on account of the former theatre amounting to ^"30,000. 
To meet this sum of .330,000, the joint funds in hand were ,45,000 recovered for 
insurance, and ,76,000, or thereabouts, raised by granting annuities, and free 
admissions into the theatre to certain persons called ' new subscribers.' " The Annals 
of Covent Garden Theatre, by Henry Saxe Wyndham, i. 338, 1906. (Quoted by 
permission of Messrs. Chatto & Windus.) 

2 Sir Thomas Lawrence's Letter-Bag, 63. 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 233 

thenceforward, no sentence of the play travelled across the 
din, except (according to Stockdale's Covent Garden Journat) 
occasional isolated syllables in Mrs. Siddons's sonorous tones. 

This was the initiation of a warfare, imaginatively variegated 
in its methods, which lasted sixty-six nights. During its 
continuance, Macready's father sent his son to London, with 
the superfluous injunction to hear every other good actor, but 
not the too easily imitable Kemble. Kemble continued to 
act, although inaudibly, but the grand voice and presence 
of his sister were withdrawn, after the disastrous opening, 
and did not reappear till April 24th, 1810. 

The O.P. fever was catching, and spread from 'a lawless, 
hir'd, determin'd, and persevering Minority' (the words used 
by Lawrence, who, in letters to Farington, 1 gives an interesting 
account of the riots) to three parts of the theatre-frequenting 
public. The Times animadverted on the extravagance of 
Kemble and Mrs. Siddons's Macbeth costumes, which, together, 
were stated to have cost ;soo, 2 and said, commenting 
on Mrs. Siddons's salary, that the Lord Chief Justice sat 
every day in Westminster Hall, from nine to four, for half 
that sum. 

There was genuine fun, and no spirit of atrocity, in the 
riots, and, inside the theatre, the * O.P.s,' disciplined with 
pains by their leaders, took every precaution to keep within 
law-abiding limits. The old servility of English actors, at 
which, in 1782, Pastor C. P. Moritz, a naif outsider, marvelled, 
was, probably, for the most part, a conventional attitude, but 
whether so or not, Kemble largely helped to put an end to 
the cringing forbearance of manner with which even great 
Garrick had met unruly audiences. ' Don John ' went too 
far the other way, and his high-handedness in asking the 
malcontents, after three nights' rioting, 'what they wanted/ 
exasperated them as much as the introduction into all parts 
of the house of anti-O.P. ' gemmen of the fist, with their 
Belcher neckerchiefs,' who worked out their admissions by 
means of sticks and fists. 

1 Sir Thomas Lawrence's Letter-Bag, 62-68. 

2 This must be an exaggeration. In Vol. 1793-97 of Winston's Drury Lane 
Memoranda, a loose sheet of D.L. accounts includes 'dress for Siddons, I2l. I2s.' 



234 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

On December 2nd, 1809, Mrs. Siddons wrote to Mrs. 
Fitzhugh that, for weeks together, Mrs. John Kemble had 
lived with ladders at the windows, in order to make her escape 
through the garden, in case of an attack. Mrs. Kemble's 
nervous precaution was not altogether unjustified, for, on 
November 4th, the c O.P.s,' hundreds strong, had marched, 
late at night, to Great Russell Street, where, on Kemble's 
non-appearance at their summoning war-whoop, they broke 
some of his windows with pence, and disfigured the front of 
the house with mud. A propos> this 'Impromptu' appeared 
in one of the dailies : 

"When KEMBLE'S Ads the public censure gains, 
They neither spare his aitches nor his panes \ " 

A compromise, favourable to O.P. claims, was arrived at on 
I4th-i5th December. The O.P. final placard bore the words, 
" We are satisfied." Mrs. Siddons, in her letter of the 2nd inst. 
to Mrs. Fitzhugh, thus characteristically summed up recent 
events at Covent Garden : 

"... What a time it has been with us all, beginning with 
fire, and continued with fury ! Yet sweet sometimes are the 
uses of adversity. They not only strengthen family affection, 
but teach us all to walk humbly with our God." 

One finds it stated that Mrs. Siddons lost 50 a night 
during her enforced withdrawal in the O.P. season. This does 
not accord with the following details, given to Campbell by 
Henry Robertson, the Covent Garden treasurer, as to her 
salary : 

1804-5. - 2 P er night 

1805-6. 27 per night 

1806-7. 30 guineas per night 

iSio-ii. 30 guineas per night 

1811-12. 50 guineas per night. 

The theatrical season covered about nine months, during 
which Mrs. Siddons acted, on an average, about fifty times. 
Boaden speaks of 1785 as a year in which she made unusual 
exertion acting seventy-one times. On the average of fifty 
times, she was earning, from her London engagement, from 
1806 to 1811, 1575 a year. In addition, she stood to gain, 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 235 

each season, not less than 1200 to 1600, out of her two 
benefits. Nor was this all. As a rule, and when her health 
was normal, she utilised the months unemployed by London 
in ' skirring the country round/ taking the bread, it was bitterly 
alleged, out of poor people's mouths, i.e. the provincial stock 
actors'. " I hope to put about iooo/. into my pocket this 
summer," she writes from Liverpool, in July, 1807. Of 
subscriptions and * purses,' over and above the straightforward 
price of tickets, we read less as her greatness and affluence 
become established facts. It should be borne in mind that 
there were, throughout her career, occasional whole seasons, 
and parts of seasons, when she did not appear on the London 
stage at all. 

At the beginning of last century, the receipts of a famous 
actress bore a much more favourable proportion to those of a 
great singer than to-day. To-day, a serious actress, in the 
first rank, may aspire to 150 a week, a favourite singing 
actress (musical comedy) to "200 a week, and clothes. A 
great cantatrice safely expects 300 a night in grand opera. 
During Mrs. Siddons's most remunerative season, she received 
(assuming Robertson's statement, and Campbell's report, to be 
accurate) 52, los. a night, i.e. 3302 for her season of sixty- 
three nights. 1 Mrs. Billington, the Melba of those days, received 
^"4000 for the season, ending, for her, on April 1st ; and, for 
the season ravaged by the O.P. rioters, Catalani had been 
promised 75 a night. While, for the actress's chastening, the 
prima donna is unmistakably preferred to her, she enjoys the 
correspondingly solid advantage that the stage is one of the 
very few professions in which women and men work on an 
economic equality. It must also be remembered that the 
opera season is very much shorter than the theatre season. 

Mrs. Siddons showed herself markedly 'like folks' in her 
ever-renewed postponement of the date at which she could 
' afford ' to retire. The ' castle' she built in 1783 was a country 
cottage and ^10,000. In 1785, she wrote to the Whalleys : 
" I have three winters' servitude, and then, with the blessing 
of God, I hope to sit down tolerably easy, for you know I am 
not ambitious in my desires." About a year afterwards, she 

1 Appendix B. 



236 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

wrote to Whalley : " I have at last . . . attained the ten thousand 
pounds which I set my heart upon." There is no mention of 
retirement, and the cottage is allowed to "melt into air," 
though she describes herself as "now perfectly at ease with 
respect to fortune." In July, 1801, out of health, and in the 
rush of a starring tour, she wrote, from Preston, to Mrs. 
Fitzhugh : " I must go on making, to secure the few comforts 
that I may have been able to attain for myself and my 
family." Exactly six years later, she wrote, from Liverpool 
"If I can but add three hundred a year to my present 
income, I shall be perfectly well provided for; and I am 
resolved when that is accomplished, to make no more positive 
engagements in summer." To James Ballantyne, writing from 
Leeds, also in July, 1807, sne explained her position in greater 
detail : 

". . . I am trying to secure to myself the comfort of a 
carriage, which is an absolute necessary to me, 1 and then then 
will I sit down in quiet to the end of my days. You will 
perhaps be surpris'd to hear that I am not abundantly rich, 
but you know not the expences I have incurred in times past 
& the losses I have sustain'd; add, too, the necessity which 
Mr. Siddons' ill-health induces of his living at Bath for the 
benefit of those waters. All these causes drain one's purse 
beyond imagination." 

For seven years longer, Mrs. Siddons went on work- 
ing. When she died, she left under 50,000. Clearly, the 
expenses of the oft-cited five children and a husband had 
been heavy. In 1799, her daughter, Sally, wrote to Sally Bird : 
" I have always been told that I was to expect but little in 
the case of such an event {i.e. marriage], and this, I believe, 
was pretty well known." 

The nullity of Mr. Siddons in the world's estimation was, 
to some extent, indemnified at home by his role of finance 
minister. Mrs. Siddons was given a quarterly allowance, she 
told Whalley, when he begged from her So to help to relieve 
the distresses of Mrs. Pennington, and urged, as an incentive 
to generosity, that to Mrs. Pennington poor Maria had owed 
the soothing comforts of her last days. Such a reference to 

1 Hitherto, we must suppose, she had 'jobbed.' 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 237 

what she called c a wound ... of itself too apt to bleed ' naturally 
hurt Mrs. Siddons. "Indeed, indeed, my dear sir, there was 
no occasion to recal those sad and tender scenes to soften 
my nature; but let it pass." It should be added that she 
cordially engaged that Mr. Siddons should at once disburse 
the 80. 

Apparently, she suffered even more anxiety than was 
necessary over her husband's unsatisfactory connection with 
Sadler's Wells Theatre. The idea of Sadler's Wells strikes 
a discord with the name of Siddons. With quaint forcibleness, 
Princess Augusta, in 1797, expressed to Mme D'Arblay her 
sense of the incongruity for she, in addition, had jumped to 
the conclusion that it was the great tragic mistress, not * Sid,' 
who had bought into the proprietorship " Mrs. Siddons and 
Sadler's Wells," said she, "seems to me as ill fitted as the 
dish they call a toad in a hole ; which I never saw, but 
always think of with anger putting a noble sirloin of beef 
into a poor, paltry batter-pudding ! " In 1802, Siddons's quarter 
of Sadler's Wells Theatre was purchased for 1400 by Thomas 
and Charles Dibdin, conjointly. 

The most domestic of public women lived her active London 
life of excitement and toil, for the most part, in three houses, 
14 Gower Street, 49 Great Marlborough Street, and Westbourne 
Farm. She did not move into 27 Upper Baker Street, the 
house in which she died, till 1817. At that date, she began, 
like many another parent of a tonish miss, to find that a 
far-away address was disadvantageous for the daughter's social 
opportunities. To Mrs. Piozzi, the new house itself seemed 
remote. She wrote to Sir James Fellowes, soon after Mrs. 
Siddons moved in, "... Adieu ! I must dress to dine what 
I call out of town the top house in Baker Street." 

In imagining what we may be sure was the respectable maho- 
gany comfort with a man-servant kept of Mrs. Siddons's first 
fixed home in London, we may take into account that the Gower 
Street of her years, 1784-90, was a less grim-looking locality 
than the Gower Street of to-day. Colonel Sutherland, at No. 33, 
sat under his own vine; Lord Eldon, at No. 42, could pull 
a peach off his house wall ; Mr. William Bentham, at No. 6 
(Upper Gower Street), used to regale friends on Gower-Street- 



238 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

grown nectarines. As late as 1812, a short lane led into an 
archery ground, whence a pedestrian might walk uninterruptedly 
through fields to Hampstead and Highgate. The coloured 
' Embellishments ' in Ackermann's Repository help us to 
reconstruct the relatively little London of that less Imperial 
age. 

Mrs. Siddons dwelt at 49 Great Marlborough Street from 
1790 till the fall of 1804, when, Mr. Siddons's chronic rheumatism 
rendering Bath his only tolerable residence, she gave up the 
house, and, with Patty Wilkinson, went into lodgings in Prince's 
Street, Hanover Square. Mr. and Mrs. Siddons had spent 
some weeks of summer, 1804, at Hampstead, as, during 1795 
and 1796, they had, with their family, rented a 'little nutshell 
upon Putney Heath/ 1 The summer of 1790 had found the 
casa Siddons established, for about seven weeks, in ' little neat 
lodgings,' at Sandgate. Mrs. Siddons loved, as she said, ' fresh 
air and green fields/ and a proceeding that gave her long- 
lasting satisfaction was her removal, in April, 1805, from 
London proper to Westbourne Farm, or, as she, sometimes, 
alternatively wrote it, Westbourne House, Paddington. 

Pulled down about fifty years ago, the cottage known as 
Westbourne Farm stood on Westbourne Green, a rural open 
space off the Harrow Road, close to the Lock Bridge. Allow- 
ing for the greater picturesqueness of a century ago, Paddington, 
* Westbournia/ and Bayswater wore then something of the aspect 
places like Isleworth and Heston wear now. Nurserymen's 
grounds flourished as the numerous old pear and mulberry 
trees still existing, in those districts, in back-garden and 
'Square/ testify so did alehouses, exact Morland pictures, 
screened by elms, flanked by long stone watering troughs, 
each with its sign creaking overhead. So, too, flourished, in 
its season, haymaking, as Mary Berry's 'Journal/ date June 
26th, 1809, calls to mind. Not very far from Westbourne 
Farm stood the almost new Henry Angelo says the cockney- 
looking Church of St. Mary's, Paddington, 2 and the adjacent 

1 Boyle's Court Guide for 1796 adds to * 49 Great Marlborough Street' 'Putney 
Heath, Surrey ' as Mrs. Siddons's country address. 

2 The earlier, Charles n church (in which Hogarth was married), was demolished 
in 1791, and the new church erected a hundred feet south of it. 







MRS. SIDDONS 

BY HARLOW 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 239 

Green, with which, in clay and marble, Sarah Siddons was 
destined to become mortally associated. 

Westbourne Farm was a bijou villa, large enough for its 
tenant, her one surviving daughter, Cecilia, and Patty Wilkinson, 
and in its progressive beautification, building a studio, and 
laying out a garden (with the indispensable shrubbery of 
1805), Mrs. Siddons took a great deal of wholesome interest. 
To Ballantyne, a couple of years after her installation, she 
wrote, concerning ' that dear hut her home ' : 

"You wou'd scarcely know that sweet little spot, it is so 
improved since you saw it. I believe tho' I wrote you 
about my dining-room and the pretty bedchamber at the 
end of it, where you are to sleep, unannoyd by your former 
neighbours in their mangers stalls, I shou'd say, I believe. 
All the laurells are green and flourishing; all the wooden 
garden pales hidden by sweet shrubs & flowers that form 
a verdant wall all round me. Oh, it is the prettiest little 
nook in all the world." 

Mr. Siddons's turn for opuscular poetry probably never 
found a more felicitous vent than when he penned the follow- 
ing verses, which, moreover, show him in unmistakably 
harmonious relations with a wife whose perpetual housemate, 
owing to adventitious circumstances, he was no longer 

ON MRS. SIDDONS'S COTTAGE AT WESTBOURNE. 

i 

Would you I'd Westbourne Farm describe, 
I'll do it then, and free from gall, 
For sure it would be sin to gibe 
A thing so pretty and so small. 

2 

The poplar walk, if you have strength, 
Will take a minute's time to step it; 
Nay, certes, 'tis of such a length, 
'T would almost tire a frog to leap it. 

3 

But when the pleasure-ground is seen, 
Then what a burst comes on the view ; 
Its level walk, its shaven green, 
For which a razor's stroke would do. 



240 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

4 

Now, pray be cautious when you enter, 
And curb your strides from much expansion ; 
Three paces take you to the centre, 
Three more, you're close against the mansion. 

5 

The mansion, cottage, house, or hut, 
Call't what you will, has room within 
To lodge the king of Lilliput, 
But not his court, nor yet his queen. 

6 

The kitchen-garden, true to keeping, 
Has length and breadth and width so plenty, 
A snail, if fairly set a-creeping, 
Could scarce go round while you told twenty. 

7 

Perhaps you'll cry, on hearing this, 
What ! every thing so very small ? 
No, she that made it what it is, 
Has greatness that makes up for all." 

With a practicable garden, Mrs. Siddons could give summer 
evening parties in a house so tiny that when the big and 
burly Prince Regent came to call, it looked [says Mrs. Mair] 
as if built round those two. For June ist, i8ir, Miss Berry 
has, in her ' Journal ' : 

" In the evening to Mrs. Siddons's at Westbourne Farm. 
Went before ten o'clock. The whole house was illuminated, 
on the outside with coloured lamps, and in the inside with 
candles, and every bush in the garden with lamps. In short, 
it was the prettiest little Vauxhall that could be, and a vast 
many people there." 

In spite of Mrs. Siddons's having, for a time, the Charles 
Kembles for next-door neighbours, on Westbourne Green, 
Westbourne Farm, from its retired situation, had drawbacks, 
especially on winter evenings. Thus, in an unpublished letter, 
of December, 1814, to one of her nieces, Mrs. Siddons wrote: 

" Westbourne ... at this time of Year and in these parlous 
times is rather a melancholy residence. Even dear Horace 
[Twiss] is afraid of coming to us, and indeed one hears of 
so many robberies &c. that I should have more pain and 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 241 

anxiety from his visits than the great pleasure of his society 
would compensate." 

From Westbourne Farm to Covent Garden was a longish 
drive, and, during her farewell season (1812) at all events, 
Mrs. Siddons took lodgings for the winter in Pall Mall, where, 
when Campbell called, 'the long line' of the carriages of her 
other visitors ' that filled the street ' at first led him to conclude 
there must be ' a levee at St. James's.' 

We have just seen that Mrs. Siddons added a studio to 
Westbourne Farm. Campbell relates that, one day, in 1789, 
when she happened to be shopping, in Birmingham, an 
unconscious salesman sold her a plaster bust of 'the greatest 
and most beautiful actress that was ever seen in the world.' 
The provocation of this unrecognisable travesty of herself 
was (according to her biographer attitrt) the germ of her 
favourite leisure occupation. She started modelling by trying 
to make a better likeness of herself than the ' image ' she had 
bought. In later years, she must have enjoyed exchanging 
this story with the kindred anecdote concerning the Italian 
image seller which her friend, Anne Seymour Darner, had to 
tell of her own impulsion into statuary. 

It would be absurd to expect that Mrs. Siddons's 'sculp- 
ing' should have had great merit. Excellence is not for 
those who take up an art as a pastime. I do not know 
whether anything from her hand survives, 1 nor even whether 
she attempted marble. Public Characters states that she 
" produced, among other things, a medallion of herself, 2 a 
bust of her brother, John, Kemble, in the chararacter of 
Coriolanus, and a study of Brutus before the death of Caesar." 
It was no disgrace to the greatest of English actresses that 
she did not get so far in that other harmony of sculpture as 
Mrs. Darner. What is psychologically interesting is her 
attraction towards, and capacity for, 'the round.' To judge 
from her and Sarah II, it would seem that the nerve centres 
that control the two plastic arts, acting and sculpture, must 
lie near together. 

1 A bust of herself in the Garrick Club ' is said to be ' her work. 

2 An engraving, by Ridley, from this medallion, is in the Burney Collection 
(vm. 62), British Museum. 

16 



242 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Apart from art, our practical, rarely idle lady was handy 
with her hands. In the early days, she fashioned her children's 
clothes; in 1803, we find her making Mrs. John Kemble 'a 
Black Net for her Head'; 1 in 1813, sewing a ' silken quilt,' 
for Campbell. 2 

She by no means missed life's average portion of physical 
evils. Mrs. Piozzi, indeed, wrote, though certainly with 
exaggeration, on February I5th, 1795, to the Rev. Daniel 
Lysons : " Poor dear Mrs. Siddons is never well long 
together, always some torment, body or mind, or both." Her 
first recorded illness was in the winter, or early spring, of 
1784, her second, in 1786-87, when, for ten months, she was 
visited with 'a miserable nervous disorder,' the forerunner, 
in all probability, of her later rheumatism and the 'terrible 
headaches' that afflicted her in advanced years. In 1791, 
she again had a long spell of illness, cured by Harrogate. 

One of the worst maladies of her life overtook her, when she 
was forty-nine, in the form of torturing sciatica (what would 
now be called a neuritis) 'from the hip to the toe.' 'Sid,' 
for his rheumatism, and she, for hers, determined as has been 
seen to try Hampstead, and Campbell records that, at their first 
meal there in Capo di Monte Cottage, at the end of Upper 
Terrace * the old gentleman,' looking at the fine prospect through 
their windows, exclaimed, ' Sally, this will cure all our ailments!'" 
But Mrs. Siddons only grew worse, till, contrary to the opinion 
of all her doctors, except Sir James Earle (whose assent was 
negative it would do her no harm), she decided on electric 
treatment. This being applied, she was ' almost instantly cured,' 
but her shrieks when 'the sparks touched' which, she said, 
created a feeling ' as if burning lead was running through her 
veins/ were enough so her husband averred to make passers- 
by burst into the house to see who was being murdered. 

Tuberculosis killed one of Mrs. Siddons's sons, and one of her 
daughters, but she herself seems to have been free from any 
taint of it. The first mention of the disease which, in the end, 
proved fatal to her, occurs in May, 1801, when she writes, from 
Manchester, to Mrs. Fitzhugh, " My face has been very much 

1 See a letter in the Forster Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum. 

2 Campbell, ii. 348. 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 243 

enflam'd, but is getting well by the aid of a Doctor Ferrier in 
this place." x Considerably later in the same year, Mrs. Piozzi 
told Whalley, "Our poor Siddons complains sadly of her 
mouth a strumous 2 swelling in the lip, if I understand Mrs. 
Pennington perfectly." 

"What good does complaining do?" wrote Mrs. Siddons. 
She had no tendency to make the most of illness. " The natural 
disposition to be well will shortly restore me," she said to the 
Whalleys, when she was fifty-four. This wholesome conviction, 
triumphing even over the untimely deaths of Maria and Sally, 
alone shows her elasticity of nerve. On the other hand, she 
was feelirigly able to write to Lady Harcourt, upon the death of 
Queen Charlotte, " I know by sad experience how wonderfully 
the mind sustains the body while exertions are necessary, and 
the sad nervous languid state in which they leave one when they 
cease to be so." It should be added that Mrs. Siddons was 
never once accused of 'artistic' irritability. Through the 
contrarinesses of rehearsals, she was always no small matter 
even-tempered. Charles Young looked back to the periods 
during which he had ' the good forture to act with her, as the 
happiest of his professional recollections.' 

Like the rest of her kin, Mrs. Siddons ate well. For this 
statement we are able to quote no less an authority than her 
butcher (who, also, to his loss, was Haydon's), a man named 
Sowerby, who descanted to Haydon with an expert's gusto on 
Mrs. Siddons's partiality for mutton chops 

"... never was such a woman for chops I ... I have fed 
John Kemble, Charles Kemble, Stephen Kemble, Madame 
Catalani, Morland the painter, and you, sir. Madame Catalani 
was a wonderful woman for sweetbreads; but the Kemble 
family the gentlemen, sir rump-steaks and kidneys in 
general was their taste; but Mrs. Siddons, sir, she liked 
chops." 

Further evidence of the solidity of Mrs. Siddons's favourite 
vivers is supplied by two stories Scott loved to tell. In one, he 
imitated the tragedy contralto in which she replied, to the 
Provost of Edinburgh, when he asked her if the beef was not 

1 Alfred Morrison Collection. Catalogue, vi. 130. 

2 This was a mistake. It was not scrofulitic. 



244 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

too salt, " Beef cannot be too salt for me, my lord." Scott's 
other story was to mimic the blank verse line with which she 
pulverised a young footman at the Ashestiel dinner-table 

"You've brought me water, boy, I asked for beer." 

It was Tom Moore who said he heard her observe, ' in her 
most tragic tone/ at a supper-table at Lady Mount-Edge- 
cumbe's, " I do love ale dearly." With these ana may be 
placed a memory communicated to me by Miss C. Agnes 
Rooper, whose father, on a visit, as a boy, to his aunt, Lady 
Sunderlin, wife of the Attorney-General for Ireland, met Mrs. 
Siddons at breakfast, and remembered, for the rest of his 
life, her concentration of interest in a not at first get-at-able 
mustard-pot. 

The quite credible statement made by a contemporary letter- 
writer that Mrs. Siddons, when a young mother, might be seen, 
like Mr. Hewlett's Madonna of the Peach-Tree in the tavern, 
feeding (allaitanf) her infant in the greenroom, ought only to 
remind us that there is a date-mark in manners as surely as a 
geography in morals. The modern student is, perhaps, slightly 
surprised at finding the decorous, the correct Mrs. Siddons saying, 
" Good God ! " and, more frequently, " Bless me ! " on minor 
occasions. Her " I wish to God I had seen the Marquis " x 
would sound even worse, did we not bear in mind the pre- 
valence, during her period, of a careless use of sacred words, in 
1 the best company,' when Miss Seward wrote, in letters, " Good 
God ! " and even Miss Berry swore, while the second lady in 

the kingdom used to say " d n me ! " and, at almost every 

sentence, " I tell you God's truth." The coarse vixen, Caroline, 
is, it must be confessed, an extreme instance. Even between 
the youth and old age of Mrs. Siddons (thanks, in a measure, to 
the influence of the ' Blues ') considerable changes came over the 
external refinement of conversation. 

An actress's highest triumph would be, not that the audience 
should exclaim, " Look at Ellen Terry ! " " Here comes Duse ! " 
but " Ah ! this is Portia \ " " This is Marguerite Gauthier ! " Just 
that triumph the great Siddons achieved. But she went beyond 
it, she fell on the other, for, so habituated had she become to 

1 Mrs. Siddons to Whalley. Whalley, i. 436. 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 245 

thinking with the mind she divined in Queen Katharine, 
Constance, and Volumnia, to such an extent had she identified 
her personality with sublime parts, that, in shop, and street, and 
evening party, still, she talked in iambics, and still, people were 
disposed to say, " Here comes Queen Katharine ! " She could 
not, in manner, get clear of her characters ; she preserved the 
style of her subjects, and her style so much the more actress 
she was herself. 

Therefore it was that she reminded Washington Irving of 
Scott's knights, who 'carved the meat through their gloves of steel ' ; 
that she stabbed the potatoes, as Sydney Smith vividly put it ; 
that she said, " Give me the bowl ! " meaning the salad bowl, in 
a tone, and with an emphasis on the pronoun which made every- 
body laugh; that she terrified the Bath draper with "Will it 
wash?" one of the best-known sayings of modern times. 
When Campbell chaffed her as to the clinging, unconscious 
tragedy habit, evinced in this last, she, giving a further proof of 
it, replied, " Witness truth, I did not wish to be tragical ! " 
King Cambyses' vein was so much her second nature that a 
Quarterly Reviewer, for August, 1834, commenting on "Will it 
wash ? " says that every one who ever saw Mrs. Siddons in 
private could parallel it by some similar anecdote. Her own 
yea being yea, and her nay, nay, she was wont to take equally 
literally what she was told. This is evidenced in the story of 
her comment, on being informed Mr. Somebody was found dead 
in his bureau, " Poor man ! How gat he there ? " We may 
take our choice between her unblinking vision of the luckless 
person curled under the slope of the desk and her no less 
egregious aspect, in a variant on the story, presented to my 
attention by her great-granddaughter, Miss Mair, which affirms 
that to the statement, " There were pigs [Scotice for cans for 
chimney-pots for increasing the draught] on the roof," Mrs. 
Siddons, on a visit to Edinburgh, calmly returned, " How gat 
they there?" 

In every artist's nature there is a magnetic element. This, 
Mrs. Siddons left at home when she stalked into general society. 
She lacked, off the stage, the player's mobility, and that gift of 
charming universally, which, as a rule, actresses both enjoy by 
nature, and diligently cultivate. She possessed no semblance 



246 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

of ' ce petit rys follastre* (Englished by Locker-Lampson into 
' that little, giddy laugh ') which Marot assigned to Madame 
D'Allebret. She had nothing of Garrick's adaptability. She 
was marmoreal where he was supple. That she was ' difficult ' 
with strangers there can be no question. The something rigid 
in her personality, what Campbell calls ' that air of uncom- 
promising principle in her physiognomy, which struck you at 
first sight, and was verified by the longest acquaintance,' joining 
with her composed and careful utterance, the habit she learnt 
at her mother's knee, conspired to produce a deterrent effect 
on slight acquaintances. Even a caerulean like Anna Seward, 
all high-flown ecstasies, confessed that, in conversation with 
Mrs. Siddons, she ' never felt herself so much awed in her life. 
The most awkward embarrassment was the consequence.' 
Miss Berry, who had, the previous year, discovered * how much ' 
Mrs. Siddons gained c by being known,' noted, in a letter 
written, in 1799, from North Audley Street, that Mrs. Siddons 
" was one of a little party we had last night. . . . She was at 
her very best ; had put off the Catherine, or rather not put it on 
since her return from Bath, and sang to us after supper, and 
was agreeable." Fanny Burney's records of her chance inter- 
views with Mrs. Siddons are well known. The diarist was not 
naturally simpatica. After their meeting, in 1782, at Miss 
Monckton's, she entered, " She has a steadiness in her manner 
and deportment by no means engaging." In 1787, when she 
was commanded to receive the royal Reading Preceptress at 
Windsor, she notes 

" I found her the heroine of a tragedy sublime, elevated, 
and solemn; in voice, deep and dragging; and in conversation, 
formal, sententious, calm, and dry. I expected her to have been 
all that is interesting, the delicacy and sweetness with which 
she seizes every opportunity to strike and to captivate upon 
the stage had persuaded me [etc., etc.] . . . but I was very 
much mistaken." 1 

It was on this latter occasion that Mrs. Siddons, in the 
midst of being ' formal, sententious, calm, and dry,' staggered 
Miss Fanny by impulsively saying that her Cecilia was the one 
part she really longed to impersonate. 

1 See, also, D'Arblay, iv. 301. 



HER ART, CIRCUMSTANCES, AND CHARACTER 247 

Mrs. Siddons had no small talk, and, from absorption in 
what she rightly designated her ' own pressing avocations/ and 
the quiet confidence her unparalleled self-made position could not 
fail to give her, she never took the pains lesser speechless folk 
take to amend this deficiency. In all probability, she would 
as much have scorned to lay herself out, in private, to propitiate 
chance strangers as, by any cheap trick, on the stage, to catch 
(as Foote has it in his Treatise on the Passions) ( an ignorant 
Bene from the hard Hands of the Gallery.' When moved 
thereto, she would, occasionally, go out of her way to snub the 
c mostly fools,' as, when, a lady, remarking in her hearing, while 
gazing at the mountains at Penmaenmawr, " This awful scenery 
makes me feel as if I were only a worm, or a grain of dust, on 
the face of the earth," she turned round, more awful than the 
prospect, and said, " I feel very differently." Mrs. Piozzi blamed 
her for ' never voluntarily holding converse with coarse or 
common people.' On her incapacity for laying aside her chopine, 
Campbell makes the following indulgent, probably just, 
remark : 

"This singularity made her manner susceptible of caricature. 
I know not what others felt, but I own that I loved her all the 
better for this unconscious solemnity of manner ; for, independ- 
ently of its being blended with habitual kindness to her friends, 
and giving, odd as it may seem, a zest to the humour of her 
familiar conversation, it always struck me as a token of her 
simplicity. In point of fact, a manner in itself artificial, sprung 
out of the naivete of her character." 

Lawrence's testimony is the same. Writing, on November 
22nd, 1829, to John Julius Angerstein, as to the success of 
Fanny Kemble, he adds : 

" Her manner in private is characterised by ease, and that 
modest gravity which I believe must belong to high tragic 
genius, and which, in Mrs. Siddons, was strictly natural to her 
though, from being peculiar in the general gaiety of society, it 
was often thought assumed." 

Stothard, who, without much intimacy, seems, instincdvely, 
to have understood her, was even more emphatic as to her 
naturalness than either Campbell or Lawrence. "... it would 
have been," he said, " as out of character in her to have formed 



248 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

her manners by those of the ordinary rate of persons, as it 
would be in a very tall woman to walk stooping." 

Frosty towards outsiders, but, as we have repeatedly seen, 
sweet as summer to people she valued, and knew well, Mrs. 
Siddons showed at her best in her home, and, there, was so far 
from arrogance that once the trait is communicated by 
Campbell she sent for a servant she had undeservedly rebuked, 
and, before her family, begged his pardon. 

Far enough from being a witty, or a frolicsome, lady, she, 
like the rest of us, appreciated what to her appeared ' comical.' 
When, with Patty Wilkinson, she visited Shakespeare's birth- 
house, where a loquacious ' shew- woman ' tried to ' palm upon 
their credulity a little monster, with a double tongue, as a 
descendant of Shakespeare, she remarked that nature had en- 
dowed the ' shew-woman ' herself ' with a double allowance of 
tongue.' Another instance of Mrs. Siddons's playfulness takes 
the form of an unpublished letter to her nephew, which runs, in 
her resolute, legible handwriting : 

" MY DEAR HORACE, Your Manuscript is very graciously 
Accepted. Yours aff^ S. SlDDONS 

"EDiN. March -2.1th" 

Mrs. Siddons could afford to confess herself ' a matter-of- 
fact woman,' made of f inability and simpleness ' ; but it was 
harsh of the precocious girl who t was, without doubt, retro- 
spectively jealous of her aunt, to write that she " was what we 
call a great dramatic genius, and off the stage gave not the 
slightest indication of unusual intellectual capacity of any sort." 
The expressive, perspicuous letters Mrs. Siddons wrote, her 
amateur's practice of sculpture, and her friendships with women 
like Mrs. Darner and Mrs. Opie, and with such men as Scott 
and Windham alone go far to disprove Fanny Kemble's 
summary judgment. Probably, no woman ever possessed a 
more clear-cut, collected, and competent mind than Mrs. 
Siddons in spite of a canard which, she told Mrs. Piozzi, in 
1796, was going about that she was under confinement for 
insanity! Whether she possessed all the qualities her friend, 
Burke, styled c the soft green of the soul ' is less certain. 



XVII 
GREAT MEN AND GREAT LADIES 

MRS. SIDDONS'S years, covering most of the second 
half of the eighteenth century, and outlasting the first 
quarter of the nineteenth, were practically coeval with 
the reign of George III and the regency and reign of George IV. 
Among the vagaries that preluded George Ill's second attack 
of insanity (1788) was his giving Mrs. Siddons a blank paper, 
with his signature at the foot. This carte blanche Mrs. Siddons, 
showing her instinctive good sense in emergencies, at once 
handed to Queen Charlotte. By 1788, she was habituated to 
the thrilling vibrations of 'Your Majesty' and 'Your Royal 
Highness.' Baby Princess Amelia, who, in 1783, extended her 
hand when the great actress ecstatically breathed a wish to kiss 
her, had helped to teach her Court etiquette. 

Both King and Queen, we have seen, showed themselves 
her steady patrons. They disliked tragedy, but saw her, during 
January, 1783, in five roles. The King looked through his 
monocular opera glass till he could not see for tears, and 
gracious, punctilio-exacting, little Charlotte (who, in later years, 
reminded Lawrence of an old grey parrot) avowed that, in order 
not to weep, she sometimes found it necessary to turn her back 
to the stage, for, * inteed,' Mrs. Siddons's acting was ' doo 
desagreble.' 1 In 1785, Fanny Burney (before her incarceration) 
was staying with Mrs. Delany, and heard Royal George, when 
he called, talk of Mrs. Siddons, * with the warmest praise.' " I 
am an enthusiast for her," he cried, "quite an enthusiast. 
I think there was never any player in my time so excellent not 
Garrick himself; I own it!" In this same year, shortly before 

1 So, in the original MS. only of his biography of Mrs. Siddons, Campbell 

reproduced the Queen's pronunciation. 

249 



250 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

the birth of George Siddons, to whom the Heir to the Throne 
stood godfather, Mrs. Siddons wrote to Whalley: "... the 
other day her Majesty very graciously sent me a box of 
powders, which she thought might be of use to me, and which 
she said I need not be afraid of, as she always took them herself 
when in my situation. These very superior honours, as you 
may suppose, create me many enemies." 

At Weymouth, where the King and Queen went * a-wam- 
bling about like the most everyday old man and woman,' and 
used to walk to the theatre from Gloucester House, Mrs. 
Siddons acted before them. It was their holiday season, and, 
preferring to do herself injustice in comedy than that they 
should be bored by tragedies, she played Rosalind, Lady 
Townly, and Colman's Mrs. Oakley. 

Mrs. Siddons frankly admired the ' deplorable Regent,' who, 
it must be said, was uniformly attentive and affable to her, and, 
thereby, added a fourth to his three claims upon respect in that 
he made much of Scott, admired Jane Austen, and naturalised 
French cookery. Mrs. Siddons was never at Brighton without 
being a guest at the Pavilion that symbol of late eighteenth 
and early nineteenth century ' smartness ' out of town. In 1798, 
writing from Brighton, she told a correspondent she did 
not like the prospect of meeting Lady Jersey at supper, but, 
realising that a refusal would displease the individual whom 
Lawrence's friend, Farington, seeking favours, wrote of with a 
capital letter ' Him ' and ' His ' she swallowed her scruples, 
and merely said (what everybody thought) that Lady Jersey 
would look handsome if she would not affect at forty-eight to 
be eighteen. A large gold repeater, given by the Prince Regent 
to George Siddons, is now in the possession of Miss Harriot 
Siddons, to whom it was left by her cousin, Colonel W. Siddons 
Young. 

In less than a month from the date of her uprise in 1782,' 
Mrs. Siddons had completely secured as Horace Walpole's 
discernment did not fail to note the admiration of those Tate 
Wilkinson designates ' people of the great lead.' On December 
4th, one of the newspapers remarked that ' on a Siddons night/ 
' Drury Lane looked more like a meeting of the House of Lords 
than a theatre four stars in one box, and scarcely any box 



GREAT MEN AND GREAT LADIES 251 

without one ! ' Mrs. Siddons's benefit book, ' as it lay open 
in the lobby/ was spoken of as ' the Court Guide.' Every 
attempt being fruitless to procure boxes at short notice, ladies, 
to behold her, were willing to struggle through what one of 
them termed 'the terrible, fierce, maddening crowd into the pit.' 
And Mrs. Siddons was the fashion, not only for a season or 
two, but throughout her life. Boaden, holding, in his Life of 
Mrs, Jordan^ no brief for the tragic lady, rather vividly says 
that she 

"maintained a distance in her manners that irritated the 
self-love of those with whom she mixed in the business of the 
stage ; and she was supposed to shew rather strongly the con- 
sciousness of living familiarly with the higher orders. She had 
in fact monopolized their attention and their patronage. Her 
nights of performance alone were well attended, and she had 
two benefits each season, for which every thing fashionable 
reserved itself; and the benefits of others, if she did not act for 
them, were reduced nearly to the actor's private connexion, and 
many were disappointed in their little circles, by an apology 
that ended with 'You know we must go on Mrs. Siddons's 
night, and we then leave town directly." 

In an age when the House of Commons, on a motion by 
Pitt, adjourned, and went down to the theatre, to see Betty play 
Hamlet, it is no wonder that Mrs. Siddons seemed an integral 
part of the national life. Pitt was one of her earliest admirers, 
and his tall, attenuated figure he was known, among Foxites, 
as ' the Devil's darning-needle ' was as familiar a sight on her 
first nights as was the misshapen figure of Gibbon, before he 
left Bentinck Street to return to Lausanne. As has already 
been said, Fox, to whose noble zest the occasion must have been 
meat and drink, watched the curtain first rise on the most 
wonderful Shakespearean impersonation of all time, Mrs. 
Siddons's Lady Macbeth, and, in thinking over the personal 
traits of that sanguine, magnetic member of her audience, one 
reflects that in one characteristic, at least, he resembled her, for 
Rogers says that Fox, too, conversed little in London mixed 
society, but, at his own house, with intimate friends, would talk 
on for ever, with the openness and simplicity of a child. 

In Mrs. Siddons's autobiographical Memoranda, we read 



2$2 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

"He [Reynolds] always sat in the orchestra; and in that 
place were to be seen, O glorious constellation ! Burke, Gibbon, 
Sheridan, Windham, and, tho last not least, the illustrious Fox. 
. . . All these great men would often visit my dressing-room, 
after the play, to make their bows, and honour me with their 
applauses. I must repeat, O glorious days ! " 

Windham's exceeding admiration of Mrs. Siddons's acting 
is forcibly illustrated by a simple statement in his Diary, 
under date, February i$th, 1785 "Drove from the House of 
Commons, without dining, to Drury Lane, to Mrs. Siddons in 
'Lady Macbeth.'" Personally, Windham liked her greatly. 
Under ' May 24th, 1787,' he wrote, " Went out, in order to learn 
from Miss Adair whether I was to sup with her or not or 
rather to put myself in the way of being asked, having been told 
by Mrs. Siddons the day before that she was to sup there." 
What Scott said of writers, that the value of having access to 
persons of talent and genius was the best part of their preroga- 
tive is even truer of leading actors. 

Among the higher compliments paid Mrs. Siddons was 
her being celebrated, by name, in his Reflections on the French 
Revolution, by Edmund Burke. If that affluent mind derived 
delight from her acting, he, on his side, melted her to tears, 
as she sat, in February 1788, beside Mrs. Sheridan, and 
listened to the purple superlatives of his impeachment of 
Warren Hastings, in Westminster Hall. "There," says 
Macaulay, "Siddons . . . looked with emotion on a scene 
surpassing all the imitations of the stage." 

One of the prettiest episodes of Mrs. Siddons's life was 
brought about by Reynolds's apotheosis of her as the Tragic 
Muse, when the first P.R.A. inscribed his name on the border 
of her drapery (as he had done on that of Lady Cockburn) 
and, upon her looking into the border to examine the * Joshua 
Reynolds Pinxit 1784,' which, at a distance, she took to be 
a golden pattern, he uttered the gracious sentence that 'he 
could not lose the honour this opportunity afforded him of 
going down to posterity on the hem of her garment.' He, 
likewise, she recollected when she described, in later years, 
those memorable sittings guaranteed the colours of her 
portrait never to fade as long as the canvas held together. 



GREAT MEN AND GREAT LADIES 253 

" Ascend your undisputed throne ! " he said, as he led her 
to the platform in his painting-room, the gusto grande in 
which he drew her already seething in his brain. "The 
picture kept him in a fever," deposed Northcote, his whilom 
pupil. Her sittings took place, presumably, late in I783, 1 
and while she herself was, temporarily, residing in Leicester 
Fields. 

The idea of an actress personifying the Tragic Muse 
had been in the air since Garrick's Jubilee, and, in that 
character, Romney, in 1771, painted Mrs. Yates. In various 
provincial Jubilee revivals, Mrs. Inchbald, in her acting days, 
walked, she tells us, 'in the always complimentary part of 
the Tragic Muse.' Mrs. Barry, at Drury Lane, and Mrs. 
Bellamy, simultaneously, at Covent Garden, had each supported 
this symbolic role at the first London revivals, in 1769, of 
the Stratford celebration. It is small wonder that, on 
November i8th, 1785, a year and a half after Reynolds's 
masterpiece was exhibited, Mrs. Siddons herself condescended 
to be wheeled across the stage as Melpomene, in an attitude 
that reminded every one of the picture. Even a Mrs. Siddons 
must have been elated by such a portrait such a superb 
idealisation of herself and her profession. Lawrence's de- 
scription of it, in his Presidential address to the Academy 
students, in 1824, as 'a work of the highest epic character, 
and indisputably the finest female .portrait in the world,' 
elicited from Mrs. Siddons (<zt. 69) this letter : 

" ARRAN LODGE, BOGNOR 
Deer. 23, 1824 

" Situated as I am, with respect to the glorious Picture 
so finely eulogised, and with its illustrious Panegyrist, what 
can I say, where should I find words for the various and 
thronging ideas that fill my mind ? It will be enough, how- 
ever, to say (and I will not doubt it will be true to say) that 
could we change persons, I would not exchange the Grati- 
fication in bestowing this sublime tribute of praise, for all 
the fame it must accumulate on the memory of the Tragick 
Muse. Yours most truly, S. SIDDONS" 2 

1 Reynolds's 1783 pocket-book is missing. In the pocket-book for 1784, Mrs. 
Siddons's name does not appear among his sitters. 

2 Sir Thomas Lawrence's Letter Bag^ 189. 



254 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Michael Angelo's Prophet Esaias 1 of the Sistine Chapel, 
with the two attendant figures behind, gave the greatest of 
English figure-painters an inspiration for the mise- en-scene of 
his diva Siddons, seated, amid lightning, in the empyrean, 
her footstool on rolling clouds. Reynolds's strong taste 
for an indefinite, goddess-like style of dress, in art, reasons 
for which he adduced in his fourth Discourse, here reached 
for the attire of a real woman its acme. It is some time 
since 'the Tragic Muse' left Grosvenor House to be shown in 
a public exhibition, but it only needs to be seen in a gallery 
lighted from above to make its superiority to the Dulwich 
replica more than ever apparent. Wherever the great picture 
hangs, it dominates the room, and bears out one of Burke's 
comments on Reynolds that he appeared to descend to 
Portraiture from a higher sphere. 

The lady who was, after Mrs. Siddons, the next most 
famous sitter to eighteenth - century portrait - painters, 
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was Mrs. Siddons's early 
patroness, at Bath, and continued to be her friend. Mrs. 
Siddons, in 1783, recommended Holcroft to her Grace, 
and Holcroft gives an amusing account of the interview 
which, in consequence, he had with that vraie grande dame. 
' Fair Devon/ as the poets called her, was a declared admirer 
of the Kembles, and when, in 1803, Covent Garden passed 
into Kemble hands, she became the renter of one of the 
private boxes, others of which were taken by the Northumber- 
lands, the Abercorns, the Egremonts, and Lord and Lady 
Holland. 

Like Hugh Percy, second Duke of Northumberland, John 
James, ninth Earl and first Marquis of Abercorn, was more 
the John Kembles' friend than Mrs. Siddons's. He was 
that eccentric grand seigneur, proud, almost to the point of 
mania, whose groom of the chambers had to fumigate the 
rooms he occupied after liveried servants had been in them, 
and forbid the chambermaids to touch their master's sacred 
bed, except in white kid gloves. Surviving till 1818, this 
magnifico lived to see strange sights. Even by 1800, the 
ancien regime was disintegrate. The * glorious bonfire' in 

1 Or, almost equally, the Joel. 



GREAT MEN AND GREAT LADIES 255 

France had burnt up its hair-powder, and Lord Abercorn 
was already out of date. Alive enough, however, to be dubbed 
' Bluebeard ' for marrying a third wife, Lady Anne Hatton, a 
widowed daughter of the second Earl of Arran. 

Of all the people high in place who contrived principally, 
in their country houses to see a good deal of Mrs. Siddons 
during the brief recesses her alternating London and provincial 
seasons allowed, Lady Harcourt should be first named. As 
early as 1786, Mrs. Siddons told Whalley, " In September, I 
shall be as usual at Nuneham, near Oxford, a seat of Lord 
Harcourt's." Lady Harcourt was born Elizabeth, daughter 
of Lord Vernon. She married George Simon, Viscount Nune- 
ham, who, in 1777, became Earl Harcourt. He had large 
property, looked French, possessed a fine taste in the arts, 
and etched so as to win encomiums from Horace Walpole. 
Mrs. Siddons spoke of him as c a very ODD respectable man/ 
but her disparaging tone may possibly be traced to the coldish 
estimate her noble friend had formed of her Lady Macbeth 
(see p. 1 68). 

Nuneham Park was habitually ordered in such a style that 
when, in 1786, the King and Queen and several of their 
children paid a visit there, from Windsor, the Harcourts could 
invite them to stay on three days, entertaining them adequately 
a rimprevu. This was the identical visit to Nuneham of which 
Fanny Burney, who came in the Royal suite, gives a dismal 
obverse in the second volume (Mr. Austin Dobson's edition) 
of her immortal work. It was amid Nuneham's splendid 
hospitalities that Mrs. Siddons first encountered Gray's Mason, 
Divine and Poet, who had expressed himself anything but 
an admirer. It was a critical meeting, but how was a poet 
to resist the present persuasiveness of the most magnificently 
lovely woman of her day? He was very soon practising a 
piano duet with her, and giving her his arm round the gardens. 
Lady Harcourt was a Lady of the Bedchamber, and took part 
in receiving Mrs. Siddons at Windsor when she went to 
read there. 

Mrs. Siddons nowhere expresses any consciousness of 
constraint or weariness on visits nothing of what the sharper- 
sensed Lady Morgan meant when she said, "people are mis- 



256 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

taken as to the pleasures of a large society in great houses 
there is an inevitability about it that is a dead bore" Turtle 
and venison, and pines and grapes, and lords and ladies every 
day agreed passing well with the woman who had begun life 
as an obscure player girl. She disliked being snubbed, which, 
perhaps, is one reason why we do not read of her 'being 
frightened at H.H.,' as Sydney Smith described the process 
of being entertained in Lord Holland's famous mansion, where 
her brother was on the visitors' list. 

We have already seen her in friendly intercourse with the 
second Earl of Hardwicke. The Yorke family touched eighteenth- 
century life at every point, and that rich collection of docu- 
ments, the Hardwicke Papers, purchased by the Government 
from the late Earl of Hardwicke, contains a number of letters 
and short notes from Mrs. Siddons, some written by her 
husband's hand. 

Among ladies who were friends, and not only acquaintances, 
of Mrs. Siddons, there was no more remarkable figure than the 
Hon. Mrs. Darner. At twenty-eight, the childless widow of a 
fool of fashion, Mrs. Darner, who, on her own side, or her 
husband's, was related to half the peerage, was a fervent demo- 
crat. To her, all things were dross compared with the practice 
of sculpture, and at that she plodded, through a long life. For 
the most part, her work was roughly finished Rodinesque. 
The masks of Thame and Isis on Henley Bridge, and the 
sculptured decoration of the bridge at Banff are from her 
'classic chisel,' and she made statues, or busts, of George in 
and George IV, Fox, Nelson, Sir Joseph Banks, Mrs. Siddons 
(a bust, as the Tragic Muse), Miss Berry, herself, and other 
well-known people. In September, 1794, her kinsman, Horace 
Walpole, had an early glimpse of her bust of Mrs. Siddons, and, 
said he, " a very mistressly performance it is indeed." It was, 
in all probability, a copy of this that Mrs. Siddons, in the same 
year, presented to Mrs. Inchbald, spoken of by the latter as by 
Mrs. Darner. A forgotten, but agreeable, book, The Queens of 
Society, by Grace and Philip Wharton, states that Mrs. Darner 
gave three busts, representing Mrs. Siddons and the two 
Kembles, to her friends, the Greatheeds. Three such busts, in 
plaster, are now in the hall at Guy's Cliffe, but one of them, at 



GREAT MEN AND GREAT LADIES 257 

least, that of Mrs. Siddons, proceeded from the atelier of 
Joachim Smith, F.S.A., of Bath, and is a replica of the bust, 
inscribed ' J. Smith fecit' 'Published 1812,' at Stratford, repro- 
duced to face p. 282. 

When, in 1797, Walpole (Lord Orford) died, he left his 
country house to Mrs. Darner, for life, as a residence, with 
2000 a year to keep it up, and at Strawberry Hill Mrs. 
Siddons was frequently entertained by her, as, also, was 
Patty Wilkinson, who, one notes, was not only the all-weathers 
companion, required to attend her padrona to the theatre, 
but, equally, the adopted daughter, whose name constantly 
appears, coupled with the senior lady's, in replies to formal 
invitations. No doubt, the similarity of their tastes chiefly 
made, and kept, Mrs. Siddons and Mrs. Darner great friends. 
It is 'pretty' (in Pepys's sense) to know that while at 
' Strawberry,' Mrs. Siddons acted with her hostess, who was 
a clever amateur. In 1812, Mrs. Darner ceded the house to 
its real owner, Lord Waldegrave. 

While there, she had been the means of Mrs. Siddons seeing 
something of her own attached friend and neighbour, the widow 
of Garrick. A few weeks before that then all but centenarian 
lady died, in 1822, she made a codicil to her will, to the follow- 
ing effect : 

" I give to Mrs. Siddons a pair of gloves which were 
Shakespeare's, and were presented by one of his family to 
my late dear husband, during the jubilee at Stratford-upon- 
Avon." 

Miss Monckton, afterwards Countess of Cork and Orrery, 
was one of the lion-hunting type of great folk who, early, 
pounced decisively on Mrs. Siddons. According to Fanny 
Burney, Miss Monckton, at her assemblies, "mixed the rank 
and the literature, and excluded all besides." She was a born 
society woman, with ' an easy levity in her air, manner, voice, 
and discourse.' It was that easy levity, I doubt not, which 
bowled over Dr. Johnson, always so ductile and pleasant in 
the presence of high-bred grace. The old gladiator loved to 
take Miss Monckton up sharp, and, in after years, she used 
to boast that he had. She said, once, to him, " Sir, that is a 
very nice person." " A nice person," he replied, " what does 



258 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

that mean? Elegant is now the fashionable word, but will 
go out, and I see this stupid nice is to succeed to it; what 
does nice mean ? look in my dictionary, you will see it means 
correct, precise." Mrs. Siddons tells the oft-quoted story x of 
a 'blue evening,' in 1782, at Miss Monckton's, prefacing it 
by the statement that she had been decoyed to Charles Street, 
on a promise of no crowd. 

"The appointed Sunday evening came. I went to her 
very nearly in undress, at the early hour of eight, on account 
of my little boy, whom she desired me to bring with me, 
more for effect, I suspect, than for his beaux yeux. I found 
with her, as I had been taught to expect, three or four ladies 
of my acquaintance; and the time passed in agreeable con- 
versation, till I had remained much longer than I had 
apprehended. I was of course preparing speedily to return 
home, when incessantly repeated thunderings at the door, 
and the sudden influx of such a throng of people as I had 
never before seen collected in any private house, counteracted 
every attempt that I could make for escape. I was there- 
fore obliged, in a state of indescribable mortification, to sit 
quietly down, till I know not what hour in the morning ; but 
for hours before my departure, the room I sat in was so 
painfully crowded, that the people absolutely stood on the 
chairs, round the walls, that they might look over their 
neighbours' heads to stare at me . . ." 

In addition to friends named in an earlier chapter, frequent 
country-house hosts of Mrs. Siddons's were, says Campbell, 
Mr. and Mrs. Halsey, at Henley Park ; the Elliots, at Hurst ; 
the Marlows, at St. John's College, Oxford ; the Freres, at 
Cambridge; the Blackshaws, at their seat in Berkshire; and 
Lady Barrington, at Bedsfield, while of persons unmentioned 
already he oftenest met, at her own house, during the last 
fifteen years of her life, Mr. H. Addington, Lord and Lady 
Scarborough, Dr. Batty, ' Conversation ' Sharp, Lord Sidmouth, 
Countess Clare, Professor Smyth, the Rev. Mr. Milman, Mr. 
and Miss Rogers, and Lady Charlotte Campbell. 

1 Also given by Fanny Burney, and, in a somewhat fictitious, or heightened, form 
by Richard Cumberland, in The Observer, i. 224-226, 1785, 'Character of 
Vanessa,' etc. 



GREAT MEN AND GREAT LADIES 259 

In a series of eight 'Sonnets on Eminent Characters,' by 
young Coleridge, that appeared, late in 1794, in The Morning 
Chronicle, one in which Coleridge had Lamb's assistance 
was addressed, on December 29th, to Mrs. Siddons. It ran as 
follows : 

"As when a Child on some long Winter's night, 
Affrighted, clinging to its Grandam's knees, 
With eager wond'ring and perturb'd delight 
Listens dark tales of fearful strange decrees 
Mutter'd to Wretch by necromantic spell 
Of Warlock Hags, that, at the 'witching time 
Of murky Midnight, ride the air sublime, 
Or mingle foul embrace with Fiends of Hell 
Cold Horror drinks its blood ! Anon the tear 
More gentle starts, to hear the Beldam tell 
Of pretty Babes, that lov'd each other dear 
Murder'd by cruel Uncle's mandate fell : 
E'en such the shiv'ring joys thy tones impart ; 
E'en so thou, SIDDONS ! meltest my sad heart ! " 

With the leaders of the new poetic movement, the new 
romance literature, burgeoning all around during her prime, 
Mrs. Siddons had, except with Scott, no dealings. Probably, 
she met Byron (whose mother, when Miss Gordon, had shrieked 
and fainted, in Edinburgh Theatre, at her cry of ' Oh my Biron ! 
my Biron ! ' as Southerne's Isabella) and, if she did, the occasions 
should have been memorable to those who never, elsewhere, 
could expect to see two faces so godlike together in one room. 
The man for whom imaginative contemporaries were uniformly 
enthusiastic was himself enthusiastic as to Mrs. Siddons's genius. 
Byron said that, of actors, Cooke was the most natural, Kemble 
the most supernatural, Kean the medium between the two, but 
that Mrs. Siddons was worth them all put together. In the 
day of Miss O'Neill, he consistently refused to see her, ' having 
made, and kept a determination to see nothing which should 
disturb or divide ' his ' recollection of Siddons.' These were no 
shallow compliments for even Mrs. Siddons to elicit from the 
giant personality Byron remains, in spite of the flippancy, the 
meannesses, the lack of self-respect. 

Mrs. Siddons knew Byron's loyal friend, Moore, the smallest 
gentleman then visible in society. Little in mind, but brilliant 
in imagination, and ' as good a creature ' (in Miss Berry's phrase 



26o THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

for him) ' as ever lived,' ' Anacreon ' Moore sang his own fervent 
songs (in the very fashionable drawing-rooms he frequented) 
as if every voluptuous word were applicable to the women 
around him. Mrs. Siddons, for one, loved to listen, whenever 
he sat down to the piano, playing, softly, an almost nominal 
accompaniment, and her quick sensibility never denied him his 
ardently desired tribute of tears. She was, as might be expected, 
responsive to all emotional music. James Beattie tells how, 
when he played ' She rose and let me in ' to her on his 'cello, 
she said, " Go on, and you will soon have your revenge," meaning 
he would draw as many tears from her as she had drawn from 
him. Incledon, preposterous braggart that he was, talked in a 
coach in 181 i,of her appreciation of his own singing, as follows: 
" Ah ! Sally's a fine creature. She has a charming place on 
the Edgeware Road. I dined with her last year, and she paid 
me one of the finest compliments I ever received. I sang 
* The Storm ' after dinner. She cried and sobbed like a child. 
Taking both of my hands, she said, ' All that I and my brother 
ever did is nothing compared with the effect you produce ! ' " 

Miss Scott-Gardner communicates to me an account of her 
mother, when a child of seven, in 1817, having been heard 
singing to her doll, in a married servant's garden, at Peckham, 
by a lady and gentleman, the former of whom said, over the 
gate, that she would give her a shilling to sing again. The 
child replied she would sing without the shilling, and did so. 
The lady and gentleman, who were Mrs. Siddons and Kemble, 
were so much enchanted with the sweetness and flexibility of 
her voice that they offered to bring her up for the stage. This 
was not permitted, but, instead, Mrs. Siddons taught her to 
sing. Hers were the only singing lessons she ever received, yet 
her voice became so good that, in later life, she often went from 
one friend's to another's, to sing a song at each house, and, in 
1896, lying on her side, a fortnight before her death, she sang 
' Molly Bawn,' with all its trills and turns, in perfect tune. Her 
family always understood that ' Mrs. Siddons was not particularly 
musical, but what she taught was her own perfect elocution and 
voice production.' 

A trait, contributed by Moore, shows our lady under another 
aspect. On June 2nd, 1819, he writes 

" Dined at Horace Twiss's, in Chancery Lane : an odd 



GREAT MEN AND GREAT LADIES 261 

dinner, in a borrowed room, with champagne, pewter spoons, 
and old Lady Cork. . . . Went up to coffee, and found Mrs. 
Siddons, who was cold and queen-like to me. From thence, 
about twelve, to an assembly at Mrs. Phillips's, where I saw 
Mrs. Siddons again. Discovered the reason of her coldness : 
I had not gone to a party she had invited me to ; and, by a 
mistake, she did not hear of a visit I had paid her a day or two 
after. All right again ! " 

From this and various other records, it is agreeably observable 
that, at over sixty, the doyenne of drama was not above going 
later where others had dined. 

Mrs. Siddons's name occurs in the bead-roll of celebrities 
who assisted at Rogers's breakfasts, those elect meals delight- 
ful enough to overcome the almost universal dislike to that 
mode of hospitality where all the pillars of literature were to 
be met, and none of the caterpillars. Mrs. Mair speaks of 
opening a packet of letters from Rogers to her grandmother, 
and being struck by the frivolity of his interests. In only one 
note did he hint at any higher taste, when, speaking of an 
evening he was to spend at her house, he added, "May we 
flatter ourselves that we shall have Lear ? " 

Scott, the English writer who, alone, shared with Byron in 
something like a European reputation, was, we have repeatedly 
seen, the friendliest friend to Mrs. Siddons, and her frequent 
host at Ashestiel, and, later, at Abbotsford. ' The glory of the 
Border ' had a limitless admiration for the subject of this book, 
and when, in Anne of Geierstein^ at the supreme hour of 
Margaret of Anjou's fate, at Aix, Scott confessed that the 
expression and bearing of the exiled queen could only be 
imagined by those c who have had the advantage of having seen 
our inimitable Siddons,' he paid her as honouring a compliment 
as Reynolds paid when he inscribed his name on the hem of her 
garment. 

There was much in Mrs. Siddons's personality calculated to 
kindle peculiar enthusiasm inside the conical head of Sir Walter. 
They were, in a way, kindred geniuses. The foundation of 
excellence in all 'arts, good sense, was a prime characteristic 
of the actress's. It was the substratum of the man whe said 
he would " ' rather be a kitten, and cry, Mew ! ' than write the 



262 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

best poetry in the world on conditions of laying aside common 
sense in the ordinary transactions and business of the world." 
Both Mrs. Siddons and Scott demonstrated by their lives that 
a person whether man or woman may carry genius to its 
height without attempting .to be loosed from any sacred and 
social bond. 

Whatever may be alleged as to Mrs. Siddons's withdrawnness 
and conversational stiffness, the fact that she was cherished, 
as she was, by a class of society with whom high profes- 
sional capacity has rarely, if ever, been counted a justifica- 
tion for lack of urbanity proves that she cannot have lacked ' les 
manieres nobles et aiseesl She may have been, and, probably, 
was, ambitious of splendid acquaintance, but, if so, the inclina- 
tion was mutual. 

That, as a consequence of her calling and pre-eminence 
therein, she expected social attention, and was apt to sulk, if, by 
accident, it was denied her, is clear, but that she was, to any 
abnormal extent, greedy for admiration, cannot, reasonably, be 
affirmed. Though it is hard not to fancy that she took 
precedence somewhere between a royal and an ordinary 
duchess, we find it stated that, in the society of the great, she 
always pleased by * knowing her place/ A story which proves 
that, even at fifty-nine, she must have possessed, off the stage, 
some palpable quantum of power to captivate a susceptible 
imagination is told by Mrs. Opie, who writes, on July 1st, 1814, 
from 1 1 Orchard Street, to her father 

"The baron, William de Humboldt, was forced to attend 
Lord Castleragh in a conference of nine hours yesterday ; 
therefore he wrote me an elegant note of excuse, for not going 
to see Mrs. Siddons with me ... we walked over to tell 
Mrs. Siddons this, and she was somewhat mortified; but 
recovered herself and was most delightful. We staid two 
hours and more, and we none of us knew how late it was. She 
said she had passed a most happy two hours, and had no 
regrets. M[argaret a girl staying with Mrs. Opie] came home 
raving all the way, saying she was the most beautiful, delightful, 
aud, I believe, even the youngest woman she ever saw; and she 
has put up in paper, the bud of a rose she gave her, to keep 
for ever." 



XVIII 

MRS. SIDDONS'S RETIREMENT AND PUBLIC 
READINGS 

IT is not to be supposed that Mrs. Siddons was so much 
more fortunate than other artists as to escape the criticism 
that imputes decay of power in postmeridian days. As early 
as 1799, when she was only forty-four, Mrs. Trench (then Mrs. 
St. George) thought her creativeness declining. " I think," she 
wrote, " Mrs. Siddons is less various than formerly, and is so 
perpetually in paroxysms of agony that she wears out their 
effect. She does not reserve her great guns ... for critical 
situations, but fires them off as minute guns, without any 
discrimination." In the same year, we find, in a pamphlet 
satire, My Own Pizarro, the somewhat corroborative line, 

"And pond'rous Siddons dragg'd the tragic chain," 

though on such a line, as evidence of declining originality, little 
stress need be laid ; the less, since one of Mrs. Siddons's 
triumphs (in Pizarro itself) in a new vein, occurred in this 
very year. 

There never, perhaps, was another great woman player, who, 
after a long reign, contemplated, and effected, abdication on so 
few suggestions from press or public. A letter l from Lawrence 
to Farington makes it clear that Lawrence believed the season 
(1809-10) of the O.P. riots to have been previously decided on 
as her last. Six seasons earlier, when, in 1803, Kemble had 
moved house from Drury Lane to Covent Garden, Boaden says 
that Mrs. Siddons, after a ' struggle of thirty years/ might well 
have thought of retirement, had not devotion to her brother 
induced her to give him her still important support in his 

1 Sir Thomas Lawrences Letter-Bag) 64, 
263 



264 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

venture. In proof, her first biographer quotes, as follows, from 
a letter, written by her, in August, 1803 : 

"... Content is all I wish. But I must again enter into 
the bustle of the world. For though fame and fortune have 
given me all I wish, while my perseverance and exertions may 
be useful to clners, I do not think myself at liberty to give 
myself up to my own selfish gratifications . . . nothing but my 
brother could have induced me to appear again in public [her 
daughter, Sally, had died in the preceding March] but his 
interest and honour must always be most dear to me." 

Not till 1810, when Mrs. Siddons is fifty-five, does any 
remark come from sworn admirers as to lessening ability for 
her profession. On March i8th of that year, Scott writes to 
Joanna Baillie, from Edinburgh, " Siddons' . . . mother is here 
just now. I was quite shocked to see her, for the two last years 
have made a dreadful inroad both on voice and person ; she has, 
however, a very bad cold." Less than a year before, the voice, 
here, perhaps, only temporarily behind a cloud, had been 
enthusiastically described by Lamb's friend, Robert Lloyd, in a 
letter, from London, to his wife, in Birmingham, as filling * the 
immense expanse' of the Opera House, 1 where the burnt-out 
Covent Garden company was then playing. Another two 
years after 1810, and Crabb Robinson reported on Mrs. Siddons 
as Mrs. Beverley, " Her voice appeared to have lost its brilliancy 
(like a beautiful face through a veil) ; in other respects, however, 
her acting is as good as ever." 

This last is the main point, and, here, most trustworthy 
observers were at one. In all that truly constitutes the 
great actress, Mrs. Siddons could never become antiquated. 
Washington Irving saw her in 1805, and said 

" I hardly breathe while she is on the stage. She works up 
my feelings till I am like a mere child. And yet this woman is 
old, and has lost all elegance of figure. Think, then, what must 
be her powers, that she can delight and astonish even in the 
characters of Calista and Belvidera ! " 

Irving was a stranger and newcomer, but, as a matter of fact, 
Belvidera was one of the parts Mrs. Siddons was less capable 
of than formerly, on account of the physical exertion it exacted. 

1 Charles Lamb and the Lloyds, edited by E. V. Lucas, 160, 1898. 



RETIREMENT AND PUBLIC READINGS 265 

With years, her portly person had become so corpulent, and 
though, in this, ahead of her years so infirm, that, during her 
last season, when, as Isabella, in Measure for Measure, she knelt 
to the Duke, she could not get up without help, to mask the 
necessity for which, Mrs. Powell, who played Mariana, was, 
Genest tells us, also assisted in rising. Mrs. Siddons's increasing 
bodily bulk had a great deal to do with a retirement that must 
have surprised those, who, to be consistent, should have expected 
her to continue to appear for the several further seasons during 
which she might reasonably have hoped to make money. 

On Sunday, June I4th, 1812, Miss Berry we learn from her 
'Journal* was at an evening gathering chez Miss Johnstone 
(afterwards Duchess of Cannizzaro) at which Mrs. Siddons 
repeated to her, in a corner, alone, the verses she was intending 
to recite at her Farewell, the date of which had been announced 
a fortnight earlier. " They are by her nephew Twiss," added 
Miss Berry, " and I thought them in good taste." Many weeks 
before this, the verses had been written, proffered, and weighed, 
as is shown by the following letter from Mrs. Siddons, which 
their author's grandson, Mr. Horace Twiss, allows me to print : 

" WESTBOURNE FARM, 
March y.st t 1812 

" MY DEAR HORACE, In the Address you have sent me, you 
have entered into my feelings of fitness and propriety completely 
you have overcome all the difficulties which opposed you in the 
construction of it, with much and very graceful adroitness ; in 
short, to my entire Satisfaction. Nevertheless, as this will be a 
composition much commented on, receive with my sincere 
thanks, my earnest entreaty that you will consult those who are 
nicer and less partial critics. Your honour being the only 
Solicitude, I feel upon the subject. Ever, My dear Horace, 
Your affte. Aunt S. SIDDONS." 

Mrs. Siddons's eleven ' last performances ' (June 8th 29th) 
formed an epitome of her creative work. During 1811-12, she 
had acted in all, fifty-seven times, and in fourteen characters. 
Her last representations seemed to the audiences a withdrawal 
of the characters themselves, each by each, from personification. 

Throughout the final season, there was a notice in the 
Covent Garden playbills, " N.B. No orders can be admitted 



266 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

on the nights of Mrs. Siddons's performance." More flattery, 
more social attention, and, consequently, more worldly happiness 
Mrs. Siddons had never tasted than during these culminating 
months and weeks, and her spirits might have been kept in a 
simmer of delicious delirium, had it not been for the sombre 
thought of the meaning of retirement. To Mrs. Piozzi, with 
whom she always went below the surface, she confided that she 
felt * as if she were mounting the first step of a ladder conduct- 
ing her to the other world.' It is harder to retire from the 
stage than from any other profession. In the case of players, 
no picture, poem, statue, or symphony is to survive as demon- 
strably their work. 

" Feeble tradition is their memory's guard." 

On Mrs. Siddons's Farewell Night (which was also our own 
Benefit), each box ticket l bore a red seal, with the word 'Farewell. 3 

The great genius of Tragedy rightly crowned her life's work 
by selecting the tremendous wife of Macbeth as the character 
in which to make her ultimate impression. In Lady Macbeth, 
her art had reached its acme. To an almost miraculous extent, 
she infused into the earlier scenes an atmosphere of mystery, 
vastness ; a sense of fate, or retribution, hanging over all, 
waiting its time. As for her acting in the supreme scenes, after 
the murder of Duncan, that was, exclaimed Hazlitt apt, always, 
to be dithyrambic concerning Mrs. Siddons " something above 
nature. Power was seated on her brow, passion emanated from 
her breast as from a shrine." 

On this 29th of June, 1812, after what Leigh Hunt termed 
' the bewildered melancholy ' of Mrs. Siddons's sleep-walking 
an overwhelming majority of the audience insisted on the 
curtain falling on this, as the concluding incident of the play, 
though a minority, Genest states, complained later, that, by 
such summary procedure, the play had been truncated, and 
they themselves docked of their money's worth. When the 
scene closed, Mrs. Siddons was divested of Lady Macbeth's 
apparel, and then, after an expectant twenty minutes' interval, 
the curtain went up, to discover her, in white, seated at a table. 

1 One of these "Mrs. Siddons's Benefit, No. 176 Box" is preserved in the 
Shakespeare Memorial Gallery, Stratford-upon-Avon. 



RETIREMENT AND PUBLIC READINGS 267 

She rose, and came forward, but, for some minutes, was prevented 
from utterance by the audience's acclamations. At last, she 
was able to speak Horace Twiss's Address. Thus runs its 
final verse : 

"Judges and Friends ! to whom the magic strain 
Of Nature's feeling never spoke in vain, 
Perhaps your hearts, when years have glided by, 
And past emotions wake a fleeting sigh, 
May think on her whose lips have pour'd so long 
The charmed sorrows of your Shakespeare's song : 
On her, who, parting to return no more, 
Is now the mourner she but seem'd before, 
Herself subdued, resigns the melting spell, 
And breathes, with swelling heart, her long, her last Farewell ! " 

As she delivered these personal lines, to her so poignant, 
the woman's anguish of departure overflowed the' actress's. 
Kemble her Macbeth in the play just over led her, weeping, 
away. The elan de coeur lifted, in one wave, the public and its 
friend of thirty years, who had played with Garrick and with 
Macready, and detonating cheers, expressing the whole-hearted 
admiration of the house, from the peers to the porters, followed 
her off the stage. All lamented that, while still in possession 
of so much visible energy, she, ' the stateliest ornament of the 
public mind,' should have felt herself summoned to part from 
them. In their estimation, she took with her not only her 
superlative reputation as an artist, but the lustre of a lifetime's 
rectitude. " I never can help carryin ontil the stage my know- 
lege o' an actor's preevat character," says the Shepherd of 
Noctes Ambrosiana, and there can be no doubt that the 
cognizance of Mrs. Siddons's honest life had, throughout her 
career, added, for the onlooker, a deeper charm to her em- 
bodiment of such parts as Desdemona and Imogen. A 
thousand claims to reverence closed in her as mother, wife, and 
Queen of drama. Exit Mrs. Siddons. 

There is no evidence to prove that this great player was, 
for an artist and an actress, to any abnormal extent avid of 
praise. " The applause that is the palm of Art is necessarily 
sweet to my sense," she wrote, in 1793, to John Taylor, and 
so much was reasonable. I confess I am sufficiently in love 
with my subject to believe her to have been guiltless, in a high 



268 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

and rare degree, of the pettier human depravities. Hazlitt 
spoke of an 'elevation and magnitude of thought' of which 
her noble form seemed the natural mould and receptacle, and 
one is convinced that she who knew the heart of human nature, 

* Our sad moods, and the still eve's crimson glow ' 

was not devoured by a petrifying and murderous vanity. 

Professional jealousy is an inevitable element in the player's 
lot, and not even a Siddons, supremely though she towered 
above contemporaries, was so faultless as never to feel anxiety 
concerning the maintenance of her pre-eminence. She had 
an extraordinary and well-founded belief in herself, and 
scant humour. When people impugned her, she spoke of the 
" malignant treachery " her " enemies could devise," and attri- 
buted their attacks to " hell-born malice." " My victorious 
faith," she went on, " upholds me." 

Her literalness was, in all probability, the real reason why, 
in her own day, she was by some persons considered ultra-vain. 
To meet flattery, she had no disclaiming phrases. Aware of 
her genius, she referred to it, as a philosopher might have done, 

impartially as a natural phenomenon. ' Sir [ ] ' told Lady 

Charlotte Campbell he was present when, a lady having taken 
her little girl to her house that, in after years, she might boast 
she had seen Mrs. Siddons, the latter took the child's hand, 
and, in a slow and solemn tone, said : " Ah, my dear, you may 
well look at me, for you will never see my like again." 

It has been assumed, from a remark she made to Rogers, 
that Mrs. Siddons felt 'an envy to' her brother because his 
taking leave of the stage eclipsed hers. This was a momentary 
weakness. If she had an absurdity of disposition, it was family 
self-satisfaction, exaggerated pride in the Kemble gens. In 
relation to John, she spoke of herself as ' one whose affection 
is unlimited, and to whom he is as dear as brother can be to 
a sister.' After the Covent Garden fire, she thus eulogized 
him, to Mrs. Fitzhugh, in a letter in the Alfred Morrison 
Collection : 

"... you would participate the joy I feel in beholding this 
ador'd brother stemming the torrent of adversity with a manly 
fortitude, serenity, and even hope, that almost bursts my heart 









RETIREMENT AND PUBLIC READINGS 269 

with an admiration too big to bear, and blinds me with the 
most delicious tears. . . . Oh ! he is a glorious creature ; did 
not I always tell you so ? Yes, yes ; and all will go well with 
him again. He bears it like an angel too." 

Seven months after Mrs. Siddons's official retirement, she 
gave a Reading, in aid of the widow and orphans of Andrew 
Cherry, the dramatist and actor, and this resuscitation of 
function preluded many further Readings of which old 
newspapers garner the announcements. Kemble told Boaden 
his sister's means were insufficient to maintain her in complete 
comfort without some additional money-making, but no doubt, 
her major inducement was the passion for interesting an 
audience. Acting was the love of her life. 

The apparatus at the Readings was simple. Mrs. Siddons 
stood, and, on other occasions, sat to read, in front of a large 
red screen. Behind it, a light was placed, with the result that 
" as the head moved, a bright circular irradiation " enhaloed its 
outline. On a lecturn before her, was placed a copy of the 
play. A gentleman, frequently her nephew, Twiss, formally 
handed her to and from her place. 

Her utterance was as much recitation as reading, if we 
may judge from Campbell's statement, " When her memory 
could not be entirely trusted she assisted her sight by 
spectacles, which, in the intervals, she handled and waved so 
gracefully, that you could not have wished her to have been 
without them." She was dressed, says the same reporter, in 
white, with her hair a la grecque. At a later date, Fanny 
Kemble speaks of her wearing ' a mob-cap.' On the platform, 
Boaden says she exactly recalled Lawrence's full-length of her 
(there, robed in velvet) reading Milton. With the shackles of 
sixty upon her, she yet had no wrinkles. In 1814, Crabb 
Robinson wrote of her still fascinating smile. I was recently 
shown a lock of her hair, strong and grey presumably, the 
shade it was, at this period, attaining. Never would she lose 
that roundness and graciousness of gesture, and that ready, 
descriptive aid of the wonderful hand, which, in the largest 
gathering, distinguish a once great actress from other 
women. 

Fanny Kemble says Mrs. Siddons's readings of Macbeth 
and King John were the raandest dramatic achievement 



270 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

imaginable with the least possible admixture of the theatrical 
element. Mr. J. H. Leigh has lent me a calf-bound copy of 
Othello (bought for Mrs. Siddons, by Mrs. Fitzhugh, for 'its 
good large type') which Mrs. Siddons used, and, previously, 
* cut ' and pencilled, for her Readings. On the blank page, 
opposite ' Dramatis Persona} in large writing, to be easily read, 
the following is written, in Mrs. Siddons's hand : 

"The Play which I am to have the honor of reading to 
you this evening Ladies and Gentlemen is the Tragedy of 
Othello. It will be considerably shortened, by the omission 
of several exceptionable passages, and I shall rely on your 
often-experienced indulgence to excuse any defects which 
your Taste and Judgment may discern either in the arrange- 
ment or the execution of so arduous an attempt. The 
Characters of this Tragedy are . . ." 

Boaden states that Mrs. Siddons did not attempt mimicry 
of men in the men's parts. It is noticeable, in the play 
before me, that every emphatic word is underlined, as showing 
the tendency to overaccentuate which she and her brothers 
carried so far that, with John, valueless words were accentuated. 
Speaking of the too elaborate emphasis given, in modern 
declamation, to insignificant words, " That was brought in by 
them," said cute old Mrs. Abington to Crabb Robinson, 
respecting the Kembles. 

Owing to the kindness of Mrs. Fleeming Jenkin, I am able 
to quote from the immediate notes made by Professor G. 
J. Bell on Mrs. Siddons's reading of Shakespeare. He 
remarked : 

" Reynolds's picture of Mrs. Siddons as the tragic muse 
gives a perfect conception of the general effect of her look and 
figure. . . . She sat on a chair raised on a small platform, and 
the look and posture which always presents itself to me is 
that with which she contemplates the figure of Hamlet's ghost. 
Her eye elevated, her head a little drawn back and inclined 
upwards, her fine countenance filled with reverential awe and 
horror, and the chilling whisper scarcely audible but horrific. 
She gave . . . more fully the idea of a ghost's presence than 
any spectral illusion on the stage." 

Mrs. Piozzi shrewdly said that, to her, personally, Mrs. 



RETIREMENT AND PUBLIC READINGS 271 

Siddons's power of amusing five hundred persons, without help 
from fellow-actors, stage, or scenery, was a stronger proof than 
anything in her previous career of the mighty actor she was. 
It is interesting to find, in the Mrs. Siddons of sixty, that great 
sign of a first-class mind its intellectual account is never 
closed. She was as able as ever to adopt a fresh or correcting 
suggestion. Greatheed told Miss Wynn that after the publica- 
tion of Guy Mannering, in 1815, he was struck by her new way 
of reading the Macbeth witches' scene. Meg Merrilies had 
explained to her Shakespeare's idea in the witches. Miss Wynn 
added : 

" I can hardly conceive anything finer than the expression 
which Mrs. Siddons gave to the simple reply, * A deed without a 
name' It seemed full of all the guilty dread belonging to 
witchcraft ; and it is just this idea of guilt which seems to me 
so difficult to convey to our minds, which are so engrossed with 
the folly of the whole thing that we do not recollect it was 
a sin." 

From the Heads of Colleges in both Universities Mrs. 
Siddons received, in 1814, invitations to read to their elite a 
compliment never paid to Garrick. She went, both to Oxford 
and Cambridge, to give these honorary readings, accompanied 
by Cecilia, who told Patty Wilkinson, in a subsequent letter, 
what gratifying attentions had been shown, at Cambridge, to 
' our Darling,' her mother. The Trial Scene, in The Merchant 
of Venice, was a selection chosen. 

Mrs. Siddons did not, in her readings, confine herself to 
Shakespeare and Milton. In 1813, in a letter to Mrs. Fitzhugh, 
she speaks of having just read, to the Royal Party, at Windsor, 
Gray's ' Elegy' and Marmion. She read in many places in 
London, in Mrs. Weddell's well-frequented drawing-room ; in 
Dublin (in 1803), at the Lying-in Hospital rooms ; at Broadstairs, 
at Mrs. Forsyth's, for the benefit of the Margate Sea-bathing 
Infirmary. Half-a-guinea was well spent for the privilege of 
listening to her potent eloquence. In a letter to Whalley, of 
November I7th, 1813, Mrs. Piozzi 'half wished' that 'Louis 
Dixhuit,' then in Bath, ' had heard Mrs. Siddons read Macbeth ' 
at Whalley's house in Queen's Square. 

By her lifelong enthusiasm for Milton, Mrs. Siddons fulfilled 



272 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Wordsworth's aspiration of linking the end of existence with 
its commencement. Once, the moment she had finished reading 
the Fourth Book of Paradise Lost, Sir William Pepys, who was 
in the select audience gathered to hear her, spoke, offhand, the 
following impromptu 

"When Siddons reads from Milton's page, 
Then sound and sense unite ; 
Her varying tones our hearts engage, 
With exquisite delight : 
So well these varying tones accord 
With his seraphic strain, 
We hear, we feel, in ev'ry word 
His Angels speak again." 

Sir George Smart, the musician, had a story of his meeting 
Mrs. Siddons at the Countess of Charleville's, when she told 
him how difficult she had found it to read Paradise Lost 
properly, though she had been trying, all her life, to do so. 
" Indeed," she added, " I never go without the book in my 
pocket." Sir George, taking this for ' a bounce,' asked : " Have 
you it now ? " and was rebuked by her producing after slowly 
searching in her large pocket a small edition of the divine 
poem. Perhaps, she instituted her habit of carrying a pocket 
Milton, after the date when, reading the work at the lodgings 
of the Rector of Exeter College, no Milton, and, equally, no 
Shakespeare, was forthcoming in the whole of Dr. Thomas 
Stinton's library. 

Her dealing with Paradise Lost did not only consist in 
reading from it. In 1822, John Murray published a 'Selection,' 
sometimes entitled An Abridgement of Paradise Lost, by Mrs. 
Siddons ; and, on the title-page of other copies, The Story of 
our First Parents, Selected from Milton's Paradise Lost : For the 
Use of Young Persons. By Mrs. Siddons. 

A committee was formed for the purpose of persuading 
Mrs. Siddons to return to the stage ; but she had, says Genest, 
the good sense to refuse. He gives the list of her (nineteen) 
stage appearances after her retirement. She was, of course, 
frequently importuned to act for this person or that charity. 
That she appeared on the stage too late in life, when she had 
become unwieldy and masculine-looking, is a lamentable fact. 



RETIREMENT AND PUBLIC READINGS 273 

Macready, who saw her 1817 Lady Macbeth, went so far as 
to affirm that there was ' no flash, no sign of her pristine, all- 
subduing genius.' In the sleep-walking scene, Miss Wynn, 
even as early as 1813, missed * the fine, fixed, glassy stare' of 
yore. She did not know whether ' the diminution of the natural 
fire of the eye' was the cause, or whether 'the muscles were 
grown less flexible,' but of the fact she felt certain. In an 1816 
' Examiner,' Hazlitt was caustic as to Mrs. Siddons's reappear- 
ance in reponse to Princess Charlotte's wish that she and Prince 
Leopold could see her play. " She always spoke as slow as she 
ought: she now speaks slower than she did," he remarked. 
And, after all, her exertion can scarcely have interested Prince 
Leopold, for he never looked up from the book with which he 
followed the play, though Her Royal Highness kept jogging his 
elbow, and tapping him with her fan. 

Mrs. Siddons's nearest friends bewailed her reappearances. 
Scott, in 1812, had wished a 'long twilight' might be averted. 
Mrs. Piozzi wrote, from Bath, on December I3th, 1815, to 
Whalley, in Brussels, "... are you not sorry our dear Mrs. 
Siddons had to act again for her son's distressed family? It 
is really a great pity, and when a young successor has posses- 
sion of the public favour! that fine Miss O'Neill. Oh, how 
the news did vex me ! " Two years later, George Siddons 
wrote, from Sumatra, to Horace Twiss in a letter placed at 
my disposal by the present Mr. Horace Twiss " I am quite 
vexed to see that my Mother continues to perform occasionally, 
and heartily wish that those who value her health shall I 
say her character would prevail on her to give it up entirely 
and for ever." 

Yet, still, play-goers retained a venerating enthusiasm for the 
dowager-queen, and when, the last time she ever acted, the 
moment her young Norval had pronounced the line, 

'As thou excellest all of womankind,' 

the house gave three rounds of applause, not to Lady 
Randolph, but to Mrs. Siddons in proprid persond. Fanny 
Kemble describes how, early in the afternoon of this same 
day (June 9th, 1819), her father took her into Covent Garden 
to see the dense crowd waiting for the doors to open, and 
18 



274 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

how, a few hours later, inside the theatre, she heard ' the 
tremendous roar of public greeting that welcomed ' the entrance 
of ' a solemn female figure in black ' her aunt. 

That Mrs. Siddons, after 1812, should have painfully 
missed the perpetual excitement of public exhibition, who 
can wonder? For everything, including one's past, one pays. 
After her retirement she called her otium cum dignitate, ' her 
alter'd life,' she but rarely attended, as a visitor, the spot 

' Where the spirit its highest life had led.' 

The fire of temperament does not die out, even after the 
period of the yellow leaf has set in. When, in these flat 
and mediocre years, Rogers was 'sitting with her of an 
afternoon,' Mrs. Siddons would say to him, " Oh, dear ! this 
is the time I used to be thinking of going to the theatre; 
first came the pleasure of dressing for my part, and then the 
pleasure of acting it; but that is all over now." She could 
have sympathised with Bliicher, who said, to Miss Croft, in 
Lawrence's studio, " C'est seulement le repos qui me fatigue" 
Under date, June 6th, 1828, Tom Moore's Diary contains 
the following entry : 

"Dined at Rogers's. . . . An addition to our party in the 
evening, among whom was Mrs. Siddons; had a good deal 
of conversation with her, and was, for the first time in my 
life, interested by her off the stage. . . . Among other reasons 
for her regret at leaving the stage was, that she always found 
in it a vent for her private sorrows, which enabled her to bear 
them better ; and often she has got credit for the truth and 
feeling of her acting when she was doing nothing more than 
relieving her own heart of its grief. This, I have no doubt, 
is true, and there is something particularly touching in it." 

This was, as we have seen, Mrs. Siddons's lifelong senti- 
ment. She had always disburdened into her parts some of 
the heaviness of her personal cares. A sad letter, of 1815, 
written by her to Mrs. Fitzhugh the letter of an artist shorn 
of the practice of her art told much the same tale. She 
wrote 

" I don't know why, unless that I am older and feebler, 
or that I am now without a profession, which forced me out 



RETIREMENT AND PUBLIC READINGS 275 

of myself in my former afflictions, but the loss of my poor 
dear Harry seems to have laid a heavier hand upon my 
mind than any I have sustained. I drive out to recover my 
voice and my spirits, and am better while abroad ; but I 
come home and lose them both in an hour. I cannot read 
or do anything else but puddle with my clay. I have began 
a full-length figure of Cecilia; and this is a resource which 
fortunately never fails me. ... I have little to complain of, 
except a low voice and lower spirits." 



XIX 
LAST YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS 

MRS. SIDDONS, as has been seen, continued to reside 
at Westbourne Farm for five years after retirement, 
growing her favourite pansies in the garden borders, 
and taking walks with Patty Wilkinson on what Campbell 
denominates ' the shores ' of the comparatively recently opened 
Paddington Canal. There, he describes how, one day, he met 
them, when himself dewy-faced from exercise, carrying his 
great-coat, and in no fettle for unexpectedly encountering 
' the Queen,' though on his way, all the same, to call on her. 

Although Westbourne Farm contained, said Mrs. Siddons, 
more accommodation than its appearance indicated, 27 Upper 
Baker Street, the lease of which she took, in 1817, must have 
been more commodious, especially after her addition to it of 
the indispensable studio. The drawing-room, with its tall sash 
windows, and railed parapet, giving on the 'small green,' or 
garden, was of handsome dimensions. No. 27 was the first 
house on the east side, and, thanks to the Prince Regent's 
intervention, its end windows, looking north, were permitted 
an unobstructed 'country view,' into the Regent's Park, to 
obtain which privilege for the honoured actress, Nash had to 
abbreviate Cornwall Terrace, then being built. 

We know little of how Mrs. Siddons's successive homes 
were furnished. The early nineteenth century was an age of 
pier-glasses and l pendulesl of glazed lemon-coloured curtains 
with dark chintz borders, and of whatever else Carlton House 
taste judged genteel. It surprises one to read that the Baker 
Street house was so out-of-date, or so individual, as to be 
wainscoted with dark oak. In Changing London. Marylebone 

(1906), Mr. J. Geo. Head, F.S.I., states that the drawing-room 

276 



LAST YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS 277 

had a curious fireplace with imposing terra-cotta columns on 
each side, masking chimney flues. Writing six years earlier, 
Mr. George Clinch, in his Marylebone and St. Pancras, was 
able to state, from personal observation, " On the staircase is 
a small side window of painted glass, containing medallion 
portraits of Shakspere, Milton, Spenser, Cowley, and Dryden. 
This is chiefly interesting from the fact that it is the work of 
Mrs. Siddons, who designed it and put it up." 

Since Mrs. Siddons's death in 1831, 27 Upper Baker 
Street has been inhabited by Mr. Justice Grove, and, previously, 
the story goes, by a fair lady admired by one of the exiled 
French princes. Its final tenants were Mme. Guy d'Hardelot 
and her husband. In 1902, the house was pulled down by 
the Metropolitan Railway Co., to make room for their electric 
railway. The L.C.C. tablet on the front, which, since 1876, 
had marked it as Mrs. Siddons's, was replaced on the new 
building, 1 in 1905, accompanied by a supplementary roundel, 
recording its refixing and the re-erection of the premises. 

The oddly variegated tradition of the house is heightened 
by a story, communicated to me by a great-granddaughter of 
Mrs. Siddons, of how one of the later tenants, who had 
previously been ' advised ' by the estate agent that Mrs. Siddons 
' walked ' in it, saw " four times in broad daylight, the lower 
part of a woman's figure going upstairs. The first time he 
thought it was his wife and called out to her, but getting no 
answer he went to the next landing and saw no one. The black 
skirt was so real that he was able to count the flounces. His 
mother-in-law had also seen it once. The staircase was a very 
spiral one and it would be quite possible to see a part of a 
figure without seeing the whole." 

Not wealthy, but possessed of 'an elegant sufficiency,' 
Mrs. Siddons, with a spacious drawing-room, and dining-room 
beneath it, was able to give large evening parties. There was 
no difficulty as to how to amuse people she read Shakespearean 
scenes to them, and they enjoyed the unique impression of 
hearing each part, equally, rendered by a great actor. On one 
of these occasions, Maria Edgeworth was present, and so carried 
away by the verisimilitude of her hostess's Queen Katharine 

1 Offices of the Railway, partly over shops. 



278 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

that, in common, apparently, with the rest of the guests, she 
forgot to applaud. " The illusion," she added, " was perfect till 
it was interrupted by a hint from her daughter or niece, I forget 
which, that Mrs. Siddons would be encouraged by having some 
demonstration given of our feelings." Haydon, in his Auto- 
biography, describes a soiree at Mrs. Siddons's, in 1821, at which 
Sir Thomas Lawrence too hastily haled from the refreshment 
table to return to the reading was to be heard, for some length 
of time, guiltily endeavouring to finish eating a piece of toast 
without any sound of crunching. This is the sole mention I 
have come upon of Lawrence being in Mrs. Siddons's house 
after the death of Sally. Hazlitt to illustrate the ' valet-de- 
chambre* aphorism tells that he heard a guest's footman, 
waiting in the hall downstairs, say to another footman, " What, 
I find the old lady is making as much noise as ever ! " 

There were other, more hilarious, festivals at No. 27, when 
"about thirty of her young relatives, children, grandchildren, 
nephews, and nieces were assembled" the words are from a 
pamphlet by Mrs. Jameson. At one such family gathering, 
which took place only a short time before her death, old 
Mrs. Siddons sat in her chair, looking on, " with great and 
evident pleasure," while the shrill-tongued juveniles danced, in 
the dining-room, and made merry. Mrs. Mair, in Recollections 
of the Past y recalls some of the dancers. Fanny Kemble, then 
at the commencement of her stage career, was there, dancing 
away, "glowing with life and joyfulness." Young John and 
Henry (Charles's sons) were there, and the younger sister, 
Adelaide, and Charles himself, " and his brilliant wife, with 
her sparkling eyes and voice like a silver trumpet." There, 
also, was Horace Twiss, cutting bad jokes, and, apparently, 
in tearing spirits, though just dispossessed of a good appoint- 
ment, owing to the unexpected downfall of the Tories. There 
was the well-beloved Mrs. Henry Siddons, with her four 
fatherless children. The rest of the party was made up of 
friends, old and new, " all joining in respect and admiration 
for her who had assembled them around her." If not on 
this evening, certainly on others, the assemblage would have 
been augmented by some of the six children of Anglo- Indian 
George Siddons, who, by the way, grumbles, in his letters from 



LAST YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS 279 

Calcutta, at the infrequent news he receives from headquarters 
as to their welfare. In 1818, he tells Horace Twiss, "... My 
dear mother writes to me much more frequently than I could 
have expected, considering the pain it gives her to sit long 
over pen and ink; but Cecy is lazy, and even good Patty 
Wilkinson has not been on the alert lately." Again, in 1819, 
" Many months have elapsed since I heard either from my 
mother, from Cecilia, or from Patty Wilkinson. It is almost 
as long since we heard from Mr. or Mrs. Fombelle. We 
should have been in profound ignorance of all relating to our 
children, but for the kindness of friends not connected with 
us by any tie." 

Home life does not consist of a perpetual ' At Home,' and 
it was inevitable that Mrs. Siddons should find her unemployed 
evenings long and empty. As she sat, chewing the cud of 
bitter fancy, her nature was still thirsting for the stage illusion, 
the dress, the scenery, the conventional surroundings, amid 
which, alone thanks to her Olympian sanity her exuberant 
emotionalism had been used to find vent. People report that 
she resented the encroachments of physical infirmity, and found 
old age hard to accept. Poor woman ! 

" Qui n'a pas F esprit de son &ge, 
De son dge a tout le malkeur." 

Then, also, came the departure of contemporaries. Not 
counting that of Kemble, it is said she felt the going of 
Mrs. Piozzi, in 1821, and of Mrs. Darner, in 1828, the most 
severely. In the latter year, at Rogers's, she talked to Moore 
of the loss of friends, and mentioned herself as having lost 
twenty-six friends during the previous six years. For her, 
unmistakably, the current was setting towards the shore of 
death. Yet, the sadness of her last years, so violently 
emphasised in Record of a Girlhood, was, probably, no greater 
than the sadness of the old age of every one but the philan- 
thropist. Except her modelling, Mrs. Siddons lacked inter- 
esting resources apart from theatre and family. "/ am no 
antiquarian," she announced, aridly, to Lady Harcourt, when 
expressing her boredom at Kirkstall Abbey. We hear little 
of her preferences in matters of taste. 



280 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

She was not a much-travelled lady. The Oxford-bred 
King of Poland wanted her, in 1791, to give him some 
readings in Warsaw, but she remained unpersuaded. That 
she appreciated the advantage of speaking 'the French,' of 
which she herself knew next to nothing, is shown by her 
taking her children to Calais to school. In 1790, after 
dropping them there, at the end of their summer holidays, 
she herself, accompanied by Miss Wynne (afterwards Lady 
Percival, and Cecilia's godmother) and Dr. Wynne, made a 
tour in the Netherlands. Michael Kelly, in his ' Reminis- 
cences,' narrating his travels in 1790, writes 

"... at St. Omer, at the hotel where we dined, the land- 
lady told us that Madame la grande actrice Anglaise Siddons 
had just dined, and quitted the house not more than a quarter 
of an hour before our arrival. I asked the landlady what she 
thought of Mrs. Siddons ? She said, ' she thought her a fine 
woman, and thought she made it her study to appear like a 
Frenchwoman ; but/ added the landlady, * she has yet much 
to learn before she arrives at the dignity and grace of one.' 
After this speech I could find nothing palatable in her 
house." 

Two summers after Mrs. Siddons retired, she relieved the 
tcedium mice by a two months' visit to Paris. Cecilia went 
with her, and Mrs. Jameson, the John Kembles, and Mrs. 
Twiss were either in the party, or in Paris at the same time. 
It was the Elba interlude, and Paris teemed with English 
people. Campbell was one, and his biography of Mrs. Siddons 
contains few better episodes than its account of how he 
escorted her through the Louvre galleries. There, the grand 
object was Apollo Belvedere. In front of that, after standing 
for a time in silent admiration, Mrs. Siddons turned to the 
poet, and exclaimed, " What a great idea it gives us of God, 
to think that he has made a human being capable of fashion- 
ing so divine a form ! " It is worth noting that not only 
Campbell, but Crabb Robinson (who, also, saw her in the 
Louvre) commented on her glorious looks. Even among 
sculptured deities, Campbell observed every one gazing at 
her, without knowing she was ' Mistress Siddons.' In the 



LAST YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS 281 

evening of the same day, ' exhausted with admiring the 
Apollo,' and after eating a 17 fr. dinner, she went to sleep 
at the Opera 'splendidly dressed/ 

Another day, not because she knew, one would say, but 
because she did not know the value of money in the form 
of cab-hire Mrs. Siddons was observed (by Kemble's un- 
friendly biographer, John Ambrose Williams) toiling along, 
on foot, in heat and dust, to see Louis xvill hold a review. 
Though she does not seem to have echoed the bishop's wish, 
' Paris en ce monde, Paradis en Vautrel she evidently did a 
good deal of sight-seeing. 

In an unpublished letter to a niece at Bath, dated 
1 Bannisters Lodge Dec. 28, 1814,' Mrs. Siddons writes, 
concerning her recent trip : 

" With Paris and its wonders I was much delighted and 
much disgusted and tho glad to have been there am very 
happy also to be at home again, I say at home meaning 
England 

" It was an expensive jaunt, but I fancy we took the 
only opportunity which the state of that unhappy country 
is likely to afford we must however pay the tax of oeconomis- 
ing for the gratification of our curiosity." 

When the John Kembles had been a few months settled 
* near the borders of the Leman Lake/ as Campbell puts 
it, meaning at Lausanne, Mrs. Siddons and Cecilia, in July, 
1821, paid them a visit. They found them 'perfectly happy/ 
surrounded by what were then termed ' the horrible grandeurs 
of the Alps/ in their villa, Beausite ; as to which contented 
British Cecilia, writing to Mrs. Fitzhugh, remarks that it ' has 
been built by a person who has been in England, and there- 
fore has some faint notions of comfort/ Mrs. Siddons was 
( dying to see Chamouny/ but, the expedition being judged 
too fatiguing, she saw Berne instead. She ate 'of chamois, 
crossed a lake, mounted a glacier with two men cutting steps 
in the ice with a hatchet, and bore all these fatigues 'much 
more wonderfully than ' the others of the party. She was 
occupied, and happy. 

During the 'twenties, the interest felt in 'glorious old 
Sarah/ as Wilson, in a late number of 'Noctes/ called her, 



282 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

was, necessarily, in the main, retrospective. Joanna Baillie 
thus expressed it : 

"And now in crowded room or rich saloon, 
Thy stately presence recognised, how soon 
On thee the glance of many an eye is cast, 
In grateful memory of pleasures past." 

Washington Irving met Mrs. Siddons in some one's 'rich 
saloon/ soon after his Sketch Book had been published, by 
Murray, in 1820, and was brought up to be introduced. She, 
he recorded, "looked at him for a moment, and then, in her 
clear and deep-toned voice, she slowly enunciated, 'You've 
made me weep.' Nothing," added Irving, "could have been 
finer than such a compliment, from such a source, but the 
' accost ' was so abrupt, and the manner so peculiar that never 
was modest man so put out of countenance." Two years later, 
after the appearance of Bracebridge Hall, he again met her, and 
a friend suggested presenting him. He declined, on the ground 
that he had been, once for all, abashed and routed. " Come 
then with me," said his friend, " and I will stand by you," so 
Irving went forward, and, singularly enough, was met with, 
" You've made me weep again." But he was now prepared, and 
replied with a complimentary allusion to the effect of her own 
pathos, as realised by himself. 

Mrs. Siddons's serious integrity all ' forthrights,' no 
'meanders' disconcerted strangers, and they thought her 
wooden, or forbidding, or priggish, on account of it. Simplicity 
was so essentially the atmosphere of her ideas, that it led her, 
equally, to place literal confidence in professions which by 
other people would have been received as mere politeness. 
" She said she would have the roof off Westbourne Farm 
because her landlord Mr. Cokerill [Cockerell] had said she could 
do anything she liked." There was a naivet^ too, that, without 
brutality, outwitted impertinence as effectually as verbal 
cleverness could have done. Witness Sir George Smart's 
account of an episode that occurred on July 4th, 1827, when he 
met her at Lord Darnley's, at Cobham. During the evening, 
one of the other guests went up to her, and said, " Madam, I 
beg your pardon for asking so rude a question, but in con- 
sequence of a wager allow me to ask your age." She replied, 




1812 



LAST YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS 283 

" Seventy-eight years old." " Damme," said he, " I've lost ! " 
and abruptly went away. Mrs. Siddons immediately said, 
" Puppy ! " " Very true," observed Sir George Smart, " but why 
did you tell him you were so old?" She replied, " Whenever 
a lady of an uncertain age, as it is termed, is asked how old she 
is, she had better add ten or more years to her age, for then the 
inquirer goes away saying, ' What a fine old woman ! ' " 

Mrs. Siddons did not love brusque and incorrect references 
to her earlier triumphs. In 1813, Edgeworth met her out 
dining, and, " Madam," said he, " I saw you act Millamant 
thirty-five years ago." " Pardon me, sir," she said stiffly. " Oh, 
then, it was forty years ago." " You mistake, sir, I never acted 
the character." Then, turning to Rogers, she said, " I think it 
is time I should change my place," and, with great solemnity, 
left her seat. 

Like every genius whose soul is unconquered by the world, 
she was integrally unsophisticated, and so remained, to the last. 
Campbell deplored, to the Rev. Thos. Price, that, from a 
memoir-writer's point of view, his subject had been all ' piety 
and purity,' and had had, like the happy nation, no history. 
" Dear good Mrs. Siddons, she was a very angel, but devils 
make better stuff for biography." Mrs. Siddons was a prime 
example of ' the genius of the race for conduct/ and it was that 
the English Philistine venerated in her. Almost as much as 
Queen Victoria, she elicited the plain man's respect bone of 
his bone for a good and great woman. Not to her could be 
applied what Quintilian said of a work of Seneca's, abundat 
dulcibus vitiis. The faults she had were not charming. Her 
nature was cramped by her lack of humour. One constantly 
realises, moreover, that she was, to a very influential extent, 
burdened by the consciousness of her profession. Respect- 
able and prudish in grain, she felt, like Garrick before her, an 
incessant obligation to walk circumspectly, in order to redeem 
her call* g in the eyes of those the slang of the day denominated 
' starch people ' the unco guid. Campbell speaks of the 
* defensive dignity ' she assumed to protect herself from the 
insolence and familiarity of patronage, and this may well have 
been the case. It was inevitable that this almost militant 
attitude should react disadvantageously on strangers. 



284 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Mrs. Siddons was present at the de"but of Fanny Kemble, as 
Juliet, on October 5th, 1829, and cried with joy at her niece's 
success. If Fanny felt any gratitude for such tears, falling 
from the eyes of one, who, for thirty years, had swayed the 
public imagination as no other actor had ever done, she 
dissembled it in her references to her aunt in Record of 
a Girlhood. It may be said that the painful impression those 
references convey of ' weariness, vacuity, and utter deadness of 
spirit . . . life absolutely without savour or sweetness' must 
reflect general family observation. On the other hand, Mrs. 
Mair protested against what she called her cousin's ' most 
exaggerated view,' and attributed it to her everywhere ex- 
pressed, rather disloyal abhorrence of the stage as a profession. 
It is interesting to know that Charles Kemble fitted up a little 
recess, or box, opposite the prompter's, expressly for Mrs. 
Siddons, whenever she could come to see his daughter play. 
" She came to it several times, but the draughts in crossing the 
stage were bad." 

\i\Recordofa Girlhood, the first mention of Mrs. Siddons 
is the happiest. It commemorates one of Fanny's earliest 
interviews with her, when, being taken, as a very tiny girl, on 
the lap of ' Melpomene/ she looked up, and ejaculated, "What 
beautiful eyes you have ! " Mrs. Siddons was of the children- 
loving race. Grown-up outsiders might find her lacking in 
facility, but, in the company of a child, austerity vanished, 
and she became gay and full of smiles. Campbell called on 
her, with his six-year-old son ' in his hand.' He had to 
leave the boy for about an hour, and, when he returned, 
found his ' face lighted up in earnest conversation with her/ 
She gave children her best, and gratified them by never 
talking down to them. Mrs. Kay tells me of her mother, 
Mrs. Drummond when young, the ward of Richard (' Con- 
versation') Sharp, one of Mrs. Siddons's favourite visitors 
and hosts being sent for by Mrs. Siddons to hear Shakespeare. 
For the little girl's sole benefit, the past mistress went through 
the whole of her marvellous Constance. 

Lart tfetre Grandmere Mrs. Siddons successfully accom- 
plished ; it came to her naturally. Mrs. Mair gives an 
account of how she used to act cook to her little grand- 



LAST YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS 285 

daughter, and receive her baby admonitions ; and how, a 
little later, she would make her read to her (!) while she 
modelled. 

When, in 1815, her son, Henry, died, Mrs. Siddons though 
with her sight ' almost washed away by tears ' kept repeating 
the narcotic measure of a verse, which, she said, seemed, as 
often as repeated, to tranquillise her. "The Lord gave, and 
the Lord hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the 
Lord." Seven years later, when she lost her sister, Mrs. 
Twiss, Mrs. Pennington wrote to Dr. Whalley : " It must be 
a shock to Mrs. Siddons, as I believe she was as much 
attached to her as she could be to anything out of that 
circle, within which she has long fixed her highest enjoy- 
ments, and out of which, I am persuaded, she feels little 
real interest." The comment indicates an observed develop- 
ment of that indrawing of interest, usually described as the 
petrification incident to old age, though, with equal likelihood, 
it might be supposed to denote (other work being done) the 
soul's last task that of fixing its affections where true joys 
are to be found. As early as 1816, W. W. Pepys may be found 
writing to Hannah More : " I was pleas'd to hear Mrs. Siddons 
say, upon my asking her whether she had read some modern 
work, that her reading now, was chiefly confined to one 
subject, which now seem'd to her to be the only one of real 
importance." 

The following lines, composed by Mrs. Siddons, may, pre- 
sumably, be assigned to this period : 

" Say, what's the brightest wreath of fame, 
But canker'd buds, that opening close; 
Ah ! what the world's most pleasing dream, 
But broken fragments of repose ? 

Lead me where Peace with steady hand 
The mingled cup of life shall hold, 
Where Time shall smoothly pour his sand 
And Wisdom turn that sand to gold. 



Then haply at Religion's shrine 
This weary heart its load shal lay 
Each wish my fatal love resign 
And passion melt in tears away." 



286 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

Every character simplifies with age, either in the direction 
of spirituality or grossness. Into Mrs. Siddons's there came 
no increasing inertia, or desire for ease. Years meant, with 
her, we cannot doubt, a refining process. Her tinge of 
Pharisaism a general defect of her period did not deepen 
upon her. She had always been a moderate in religion, a 
Churchwoman whom nothing short of a cold or a wet day 
would have kept away from Sunday morning service. In 
spite of her R.C. father, and the priests' education given to 
her brothers, she had no sympathy with ecclesiasticism and 
ritual, as she explained, at considerable length, in a letter to 
Lady Harcourt, written after she had seen something, in 1790, 
of foreign church ceremonials. Such opinions were skin-deep 
in comparison with the prose sagacity that marks her avowal 
to Ballantyne, in a letter of July 5th, 1807: ". . . in myself I 
am sure I am not mistaken. It is a vulgar error to say we 
are ignorant of ourselves, for I am quite sure that those who 
think at all seriously must know themselves better than any 
other individual can" Mrs. Siddons had not laid up for her- 
self a cynical old age by expecting too much from life. 
Words she wrote, in 1803, "The testimony of all ages is 
folly if happiness be anything more than a name" represented 
her habitual conviction. She had faith in the idea of re- 
union with those she had loved, expressing her faith thus 
characteristically : 

"I am one of those, whether rationally or not, yet surely 
innocently, who look forward to the hope of meeting those I 
love in a better world as one of the rewards for having struggled 
with reasonable decency through this." 

Though, during the final year or two, she ceased to read 
Shakespeare, even in her own house, Mrs. Siddons, on days she 
felt vigorous, used to describe herself as ' charming,' and, as late 
as six weeks before her death, laughingly told her doctor, 
Mr. Bushell, he might discontinue his visits, for she had ' health 
to sell.' The doctor had been called in to fight what was, at 
her age, a dangerous, as, with her, an ancient, enemy, erysipelas. 
It had, long, recurrently afflicted her with burning soreness in 
the mouth, and Campbell who also suffered from erysipelas 
attributes her headaches to it. 



LAST YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS 287 

The end of a life is always tragic. Payne Collier (to whom, 
in 1832, Charles Kemble showed the last letter Mrs. Siddons 
ever wrote) describes the once royally beautiful woman as 
'haggard.' A letter she wrote, in 1828, to the Rev. Denison, 
speaks of 'the bitter cup' of painful illness. On May I3th, 
1831, Fanny Kemble visited her, and wrote: 

" I was shocked to find her looking wretchedly ill ; she has 
not yet got rid of the erysipelas in her legs, and complained of 
intense headache. . . . Every time I see that magnificent ruin 
some fresh decay makes itself apparent in it, and one cannot 
but feel it must soon totter to its fall." 

A drive in cold weather at the end of May brought back 
erysipelas with increased intensity. Fever with rigors super- 
vened, and Dr. Leman was sent for in consultation. For a 
week, the patient suffered. Cecilia and ' Mrs ' (Patty) Wilkinson 
were her loving nurses. On June 8th, 1831, at 8 a.m., the 
wheels of weary life at last stood still. Mrs. Siddons expired, 
" peaceably, and without suffering, and in full consciousness," 
wrote Fanny Kemble, on the day itself. 

There was some question as to public obsequies, but a 
section of the press, apparently, opposed the suggestion, and 
the Charles Kembles, not specially desiring it, refused offers 
from ' many of the Nobility and Gentry ' to follow in the funeral 
train. To the public, Mrs. Siddons's death had taken place on 
June 29th, 1812. 

Her interment was conducted, on June I5th, by an under- 
taker named Nixon. An upholsterer also, he had been her 
landlord in Prince's Street, where, finding from his card his 
secondary occupation, she had said, in 1804, "Well then, Mr. 
Nixon, I bespeak you to bury me." Fully five thousand persons 
are said to have witnessed her funeral. In the Morning Post, 
June i6th, 1831, may be read as follows: 

"FUNERAL OF MRS. SIDDONS 

" The mortal remains of this great actress, whose name and 
fame must be immortal, were yesterday consigned to the grave. 

" At nine o'clock there was a large assemblage of persons 
in Upper Baker-street, to witness the funeral. At half-past ten 
o'clock the signal was given for the mournful procession to 



288 THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 

move. The covering of the coffin containing the body was of a 
rich purple velvet, and was placed in a hearse, drawn by four 
horses, followed by two mourning coaches and four, containing 
the relatives of the deceased. Afterwards fourteen mourning 
coaches, drawn by two horses, each containing four gentlemen 
mourners belonging to the Theatres ; two gentlemen's carriages 
brought up the procession. The cavalcade proceeded along the 
Park-road, Regent's Park, up the Alpha-road, through Princes- 
street to Paddington Church, where the body was deposited in 
a vault at a quarter past twelve o'clock." 

In the vault of the church adjoining, Lady Hamilton, 
in 1810, laid her devoted mother, Mrs. * Cadogan/ Thomas 
Banks, R.A., the sculptor; the two Nollekens, father and 
son ; Whitefoord, ' wit and diplomatist ' 1 ; Sir William Beechey ; 
and, as we have seen, Haydon, were all buried in Paddington 
Churchyard. Inside the church is a mural tablet to Richard 
Twiss; and in the chancel, on the north of the altar, one, 
in black and white marble, to Mrs. Siddons, bearing the 
inscription 

Sacred to the Memory of 

SARAH SIDDONS 

Who departed this life June 8 1831, 

In her 76th Year 



* I know that my REDEEMER liveth.' 

The stone over the vault in the burial - ground bore 
similar words, and selected by Mrs. Siddons herself the 
text, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord." George 
Siddons, who, on his retirement from the Bengal Civil 
Service, lived, till his death, in Harewood Square, was buried 
by the side of his mother. His wife, who survived him for 
many years, lies there too. In 1890, Mr. Clinch wrote of 
Mrs. Siddons's grave as ' marked only by a slab of cement, 
bearing no legible inscription on its face, and distinguished 
only by a half obliterated legend cut in its upper edge/ In 
1907, the tomb was substantially restored by Mr. Henry G. I. 
Siddons, and, in 1908, roofed with glass. 

1 Dictionary of National Biography. 



LAST YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS 289 

Out of the life-story of the foremost woman England has 
produced in the region of the arts one main impression 
emerges. It is that, with her, the Muse was, indeed, a 
* heavenly goddess,' and not a lawless runagate. Mrs. Siddons 
possessed firmer moral equipoise, less of the seamy side of 
the artistic temperament, than any other player of whose 
actions and habits we have any record. It were well 
with all actresses, with all artists, with all who belong 
to neither category, if their worst defects proved, at the 
last, a paucity of humour and a prudence somewhat over- 
marked. 

Mrs. Siddons stands, again, for the mother-woman in 
combination with the supreme and instinctive actress, and 
such women (if one can speak in the plural at all) are 
exceedingly rare. At the same time that she was a con- 
structive artist, ardent and tenacious in her calling, she was, 
to the finest fibre of her nature, the simple being Campbell 
called her. An affirmative, productive creature, ' a flash of the 
will that can/ she possessed for a player, in a unique 
degree the sincerity of greatness. 

Her most distinctive characteristic of mind a characteristic 
that reappeared in several other members of her race, notably, 
in her nieces, Fanny and Adelaide Kemble was an extra- 
ordinary sense of, and passion for, the ideal, joined with an 
extraordinary personal power of impressing the sense of it on 
others. As Stothard said, " Her own mind was noble, and that 
made her acting so." Nothing about her was feline, nothing 
serpentine. In virtue of her complete sanity, she may, 
possibly, be termed, in minor matters, a Philistine, but, 
whether so or not, she was, most certainly, an Olympian. 



APPENDIX A (p. 188) 
ELIZA? 

MRS.SIDDONS had three daughters known to history, Sally, Maria, 
and Cecilia, and two sons, Henry (Harry) and George John. 

In Mrs. Siddons's letters to the Whalleys there occur four 
passages that baffle the present biographer. They run : 

(March I3th, 1785) " Next week I shall see your daughter 
and the rest. Sarah is an elegant creature, and Maria is as 
beautiful as a seraphim." 

(Sept. 28th, 1785) "Your little Eliza is as fair as wax, 
with very blue eyes, and the sweetest tuneful little voice you 
ever heard." 

(Aug. nth, 1786) "My children are all well, clever, and 
lovely. ... I want sadly to find a genteel, accomplished woman 
to superintend my three girls under my own roof." [N.B. 
Mrs. Siddons's third known daughter, Cecilia, Dr. Whalley's 
godchild, was not born till 1794.] 

(Oct. ist, 1786) "My family is well, God be praised! . . . 
At Christmas I bring my dear girls from Miss Eames, or rather, 
she brings them to me. Eliza is the most entertaining creature 
in the world ; Sally is vastly clever ; Maria and George are 
beautiful ; and Harry a boy with very good parts, but not 
disposed to learning. My husband is well. . . ." 

The tenor of the above extracts would lead a casual reader 
to think of Mrs. Siddons as the mother of a schoolgirl, named 
Eliza, the eldest of three daughters, though in no other letter 
I can come across, from or to Mrs. Siddons, and in no published 
memoir of her, or of any member of her circle, is any trace 
of such an Eliza to be found. It is unthinkable that the death 
of so old a child, occurring later than October ist, 1786, should 
never have been referred to, in the intimate Pennington and 
Bird correspondences that record the illnesses and deaths of 
Maria and Sally. Equally impossible is it to imagine ' Eliza ' 
the daughter stated to have been born to Mrs. Siddons in 1781, 

and to have died in infancy, the child whose name is given, in 

290 



APPENDIX A 291 

the Bath Abbey Register, under Deaths, as Frances Emilia, 
A reference made by Anna Seward to an approaching confine- 
ment of Mrs. Siddons's, in 1783, can scarcely be linked with the 
birth of a daughter, who, in 1786, was, apparently, a schoolgirl, 
first named of three. Pending the possible unearthing of letters 
explaining Eliza, we must stay ourselves on the surmise that 
she may have been a niece, or protegee, of Mrs. Whalley, or of 
Dr. Whalley he had no child by any of his wives who was 
being brought up with Sally and Maria. Dorothy Place, it 
may be remembered, and, also, Patty Wilkinson, were inmates 
of the Siddons household. This surmise is, to some slight 
extent, strengthened by the fact that Whalley used to call his 
first wife (Elizabeth Sherwood) 'Eliza.' She lived till 1801. 
The identity of Eliza is, up to now, as impossible to elucidate 
as is that of the 'young woman,' mentioned by Campbell, 
* who,' at Mrs. Siddons's funeral, ' came veiled,' and ' knelt beside 
the coffin, with demonstrations of the strongest grief.' 



APPENDIX B (p. 235) 



THE appended list of Mrs. Siddons's nights, during her last 
three seasons, has been kindly made for me by Mrs. Charles 
Enthoven, from consecutive Covent Garden bills, for these years, 
in her possession : 



1809-1810. 


, 8 ,8n. 


1811-1812. 




jj 






















. 














I 


.0 










. 


S 


j 








J3 






S 










<& 


. 








I 


g 




_; 






s 





S 


s 


. 






I 


O 


8 


jf 


1 


2, 




3 


> 

o 


5 


c 
cx, 


ci 


1 

14 


C/3 


| 

o 
O 


i 


1 

<u 

P 


&, 


Cj 


c 

s 


18 




24 


2 


I 


2 


17 


IS 


i 


22 


I 


6 


18 


2 


2 


3 


9 


2 


2 






26 


3 


4 


4 


20 


17 


4 


27 


4 


8 


21 


5 


S 


S 


ii 


5 


5 






28 


S 


ii 




23 


20 


8 




15 


10 


25 


9 


8 


7 


14 


9 


8 






30 


8 


16 




27 


2 4 


ii 




18 


17 


28 


12 


13 


10 


18 


12 


ii 








10 


18 




30 


27 


13 




21 


24 




15 


16 


12 


21 


15 


13 








12 
14 


21 
25 








15 

18 




28 






19 
23 


19 

21 


14 
17 


3 


19 
23 


15 
18 








17 










20 










26 


23 


19 




26 


20 


















22 










30 


26 


2O 




30 


25 








24 






















28 


21 






26 








26 






















30 


23 






27 








28 






























29 








31 
































i 




4 


13 


7 


2 


5 


5 


9 


2 


7 


5 


4 


9 


II 


II 


7 


9 


12 


1809-1810 


1810-1811 


1811-1812 


Total, 27 nights. 


Total, 33 nights. 


Total, 63 nights. 



INDEX 



Abercorn, (ist) Marquis of, 141, 254-5 
Abington, Mrs. Frances, 27, 29, 63, 79, 

107, 172, 270 
Ancaster, (2nd) Duke of, 15 ; his 

Duchess, 15 

Ancaster, (3rd) Duke of, 16 
Angelo, Henry, 65, 238 
Anstey, Christopher, 46 
Archer, Mr. William, 163 
Arran, (2nd) Earl of, 255 ; and Countess, 

224 

Baillie, Joanna, 166-7, 2I 4~5> 216, 

282 ; her De Montfort quoted 

63, 214 

Ballantyne, James, 129 
Bannister, John, 92, 178 
Barry, Anne, afterwards Crawford, 2O, 

41, 82, 91-2, 96, 171, 253 
Barrymore, 158, 177 
Bartley, George, 58 
Bate, Rev. Henry, afterwards Sir Henry 

Bate Dudley, 20, 21, 23, 24, 29, 

42 ; Mrs. , 20 
Bath, 34, 37, 44, 56, 68, 185, 186, 188, 

254 ; Theatre, 31, 34, 35-42, 49-51, 

52, 57, 168, 171 

Beattie, James, 59, 62, 1 10, 260 
Beaumont, Sir George, 218, 221 
Beechey, Sir William, 60 
Bell, Prof. G. J., quoted 73, 120-1, 

122-3, I 2 9, 270 
Bensley, 24, 177 
Bernard, John, quoted 10, 178 
Bernhardt, Mme., 77, 121, 132, 241 
Berry, Miss Mary, 172, 238, 240, 244, 

246, 256, 259, 265 
Betterton, 6 
Betty, Master, 160, 251 
Billington, Mrs., 176, 235 
Birmingham, 30, 31, 33, 34, 1 12, 197, 241 
Boaden, James, 4, 6, 7, 20, 22, 23, 37, 

60, 115, 123, 124, 127, 131, 132, 

133, 139, 140, 151, 184, 232, 234, 

269, 270; quoted 56, 63, 64, 71, 78, 

83, 118, 147, 173, 230, 251, 263-4; 

cited 31-2, 50, 55; his Aurelio 

and Miranda, 165 



Boyle, Hon. Henrietta, afterwards 

O'Neill, 18, 19, 98-9 
Brecon, I, 7, 13, 14 
Brereton, William, 24, 95, 101-4 
Bruce, Lord, afterwards Earl of Ailes- 

bury, 1 8, 19, 98 
Brunton, Elizabeth, afterwards Merry, 

169 

Brunton, Louisa, 169 
Burke, Edmund, 118, 163, 164, 248, 

252 
Burney, Fanny, 46, 47, 124, 167, 220, 

246, 249, 255, 257, 269 
Byron, Lord, 81, 83, 127, 165, 166, 180, 

211, 219, 259, 261 ; Lady, 216, 

219 

Camden, Lord Chancellor, 46 

Camp, M. T. de, afterwards Kemble, 
149, 278 

Campbell, Lady Charlotte, afterwards 
Bury, 74, 258 

Campbell, Thomas (poet), I, 9, 14, 23, 
39, 57, 71, 80, 115, 117, 127, 143, 
145, 154, 167, 195, 222-3, 240, 
242, 245, 246, 247, 248, 280, 281, 
283, 284, 286, 291 ; quoted note 64, 
123-4, 269 

Campbell, Thomas (sculptor), 62, 145 

Caroline, wife of George IV, 191, 244 

Catalani, 232, 235, 243 

Chamberlain and Crump, 18 

Charlotte, Queen, 33, 63, 67, 188, 243, 
249-50 

Cheltenham, 18, 98, 112, 197 

Cherry, Andrew, 165, 269 

Gibber, Colley, 160, 179 

Gibber, Mrs. Susanna, 29, 69, 82, 168 

Clairon, 76, 89 

Clarence, Duke of, 175 

Clinch, Laurence, 97 

Clive, Kitty, 26, 29, 77 

Coleridge, S. T., 156, 174, 211, 259 

Collier, John Payne, 54, 148, 159, 222, 
287 

Colman, George, his English Merchant, 

Colman, George, the younger, 124, 172 



293 



294 



THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 



Combe, George, 206 

Combe, William, 8, 10, 169-70 

Congreve, 82, 162, his Mourning Bride, 

68, 69, 75, 84; Zara, 76, 81 
Cooke, G. F., 135, 138, 178-9, 180, 

259 
Covent Garden Theatre, 20, 21, 22, 41, 

135, 138, 140-1, 147, 150, 169, 

170, 171, 207, 231; O.P. riots, 

232-4, 263 
Cradock, Joseph, 49 
Creevey, quoted 173 
Croly, Rev. George, quoted 63 
Cumberland, Richard, 71, 164 ; his 

Carmelite, 166 

Daly, Richard, 96, 98, 100-3, 173 
Darner, Hon. Mrs., 241, 248, 256-7, 

279 

Darnley, Earl of, 224, 282 
Davies, Thomas, quoted 42, 55, 57, 69 ; 

Mrs., 23, 25 

Derby, (i2th) Earl of, 172-3 
Devonshire, Duchess of, Georgiana, 44, 

52, 157, 254 ; Elizabeth, 60, 190 
Dibdin, Thomas, 25, 165, 237 
Diderot, quoted 26, 93 
Digges, West, 101-6 
Donne, William Bodham, 58 
Doran, Dr., quoted 160 
Downman, John, 60 
Drury Lane Theatre, 18, 22, 24, 26, 27, 

28, 30, 36, 38, 44, 48, 49, 52, 56, 

97, 134, 135. 139, MO, 148, 149, 

153, 156, 159, 160, 164, 172, 175, 

176, 177, 180 
Dublin, 7, 95-109, 173, 204, 205, 225 

Edgeworth, Maria, 216, 277 

Edinburgh, 109-11, 144, 148, 245, 264 

Edwin, John, 37 

Egan, Pierce, quoted 166 

Erskine, Thomas, 68, 128, 219, 220 

Evans (of Pennant), 13, 14, 15 

Everard, Edward Cape, 26 

Farren, Elizabeth, 3, 48, 79, 171-3, 

175, 178 

Fitzgerald, Lord Edward, 99 
Fitzgerald, Mr. Percy, 3, 62 
Fitzherbert, Mrs., 62, 163 
Fitzhugh, Mrs., 61, 216-7, 270 
Flaxman, 61, 62 
Foote, Samuel, 247 
Ford, Dr., 29 
Fox, Charles James, 118, 163, 251-2, 

256 
Franklin, his Earl of Warwick, 58, 

165-6 



Gainsborough, Thomas, 20, 44, 58, 59, 64 
Galindo, 224-7 ; Mrs., 185, 224-7 
Gait, John, 174, 207 
Garrick, David, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 

24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 32, 34, 69, 
7 1 , 77> 79 82, 88, 106, note no, 
136, 137, 142, i43> J 6o, 168, 180, 
181, 229, 233, 246, 249, 283 ; quoted 
92; Mrs., 149, 257 

Genest, Rev. John, 15, 49, 128, 130, 
133, 138, 265, 266, 272 ; quoted 61, 
127, 166, 173, 207 ; cited 65, 72 

George in, 6, 35, 64, 67, 126, 159, 179, 
249, 250, 256 

George iv, 141, 163, 176, 187, 209, 

223, 231, 240, 250, 256, 276 
Gibbon, 251-2 

Godwin, William, 85, 125-6 
Goncourt, Edmond de, 12 
Greatheed, Bertie, 15, 17, 142, 271 ; his 
Regent, 90, 167 ; his son Bertie, 203 
Greatheed, Lady Mary, 15, 16, 17 
Greatheed, Samuel, 15 
Guy's Cliffe, 11, 15, 16, 99, 142, 145, 

224, 256 

Hamilton, William, 61, 125 
Harcourt, Earl of, 168 ; and Lady, 255 
Hardwicke, (2nd) Earl of, 61, 108, 256 
Harlow, G. H., 60, 128 
Harness, Rev. William, 219 
Harris, Thomas, 138, 149, 231 
Haydon, Benjamin, 190, 22O-2, 243, 

278, 288 
Hazlitt, William, 136, 170, 230, 266, 

273, 278 ; quoted 66, 118, 130 
Henderson, John, 34, 36, 39, 44, 49, 52, 

57, 82, 91, 136, 179 
Hereford, 2, 5, 10 
Hill, Aaron, his Zara, 85 
Hogg, James, 79 
Holcroft, Thomas, 10, n, 254; quoted 

26 

Holland, Lord, 145, 256 
Home, John, his Doiiglas, 91-2, no, 

157, 182, 273 
Hopkins, Priscilla, afterwards Kemble, 

25, 30, 138, 141-2, 145-6, 234, 242 
Hopkins, W., 30; Mrs., 126 

Hunt, Leigh, 66, 89, 131, 136, 138, 175, 
266 ; quoted 72 

Inchbald, Elizabeth, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 
64, 81, 135, 141, 151, 189, 212-3, 
223,226,253, 256; Mr., 33, 34 
Incledon, 260 

Irving, Sir Henry, 72, 78, 117, 180 
Irving, Mr. H. B., quoted 133 
Irving, Washington, 136, 245, 264, 282 



INDEX 



295 



fackson, John, in, 148 

[ago, Rev. Richard, quoted 16 

[ameson, Mrs., 120, 280, quoted 45, 278 

[anin, Jules, quoted 57 

[ekyll, Joseph, 219 

[enkin, Prof. Fleeming, 120-1, quoted 73 

("ersey, Lady, 250 

Johnson, Samuel, 23, 94, 99-100, 119, 

127-8, 211, 224, 229, 257 
Jones, Frederic E., 109 
Jordan, Dora, 79, 165, 172, 173-5 

Kean, Charles, 139 

Kean, Edmund, 34, 71, 136, 167, 178, 
179, 180-1 

Kelly, Michael, 158, 280 

Kelly, Miss, 74 

Kemble, Anne, afterwards Hatton, sister 
of Mrs. Siddons, 154-5 

Kemble, Charles, brother of Mrs. 
Siddons, 4, 7, 58, 91, 133, 135, 144, 
148-50, 158, 178, 181, 226, 230, 
243, 278, 284, 286 

Kemble, Elizabeth, afterwards Whitelock, 
sister of Mrs. Siddons, 150-1, 153-4 

Kemble, Fanny, niece of Mrs. Siddons, 
8, 123, 135, 148, 150, 189, 191-2, 
206, 217, 230, 247, 248, 269, 273, 
278, 284, 287, 289; quoted 77, 117, 
146, 152 ; cited 65 

Kemble, Frances, afterwards Arkwright, 
niece of Mrs. Siddons, 148, 195 

Kemble, Frances, afterwards Twiss, 
sister of Mrs. Siddons, 49, 95, 
150-2, 176, 1 88, 280, 285 

Kemble, Jane, afterwards Mason, sister 
of Mrs. Siddons, 154 

Kemble, Father John, 3, 4, 223 

Kemble, John Mitchell, nephew of Mrs. 
Siddons, 4, 137, 149-5, 278 

Kemble, John Philip, brother of Mrs. 
Siddons, 3, 7, 8, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 
59, 61, 63, 77, 78, 88, 91, 95, 97, 
100, 102, 104, in, 115, note 120, 
127, 133-46, 147, 151, 157, 160, 
165, 166, 167, 172, 177, 178, 180, 
181, 185, 193, 226, 229, 231-4, 241, 
243, 259, 260, 263, 267, 268, 269, 
270, 279 

Kemble, Capt. Richard, 3, 4 

Kemble, Roger, grandfather of Mrs. 
Siddons, 4, 5 

Kemble, Roger, father of Mrs. Siddons, 
i, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 17, 54, 
56, 133-4, 203, 204 

Kemble, Sarah, afterwards Siddons : 
birth and birthplace, 1-2 
origins of Kemble family, 2 
immediate ancestry, 3-5 



Kemble, Sarah, afterwards Siddons 

continued 
her parents, 3, 6-7 

trained by her mother in careful utter- 
ance, 8, 66 

general education, 8-9 
lifelong love of Milton, 9, 271-2 
juvenile appearances, 2, 9-10 
early maturity, 12 
art slow in development, 12, 28 
staidness and high principles, 12, 225 
engagement to Siddons, 13-15 
Guy's Cliffe interlude, 15-17 
marriage and first appearance after, 17 
good acting reported to Garrick, 18-19 
engaged for Drury Lane, 20-22 
birth of first two children, 21, 23 
unsuccessful debut as Portia, 23 
plays various parts with Garrick, 26 
continued ill success, 26-30 
animus against Garrick, 27, 28 
lack of pliancy, 28, 100, 245-6, 283 
dismissed from Drury Lane, 30 
short provincial engagements, 31-35 
engaged for Bath Theatre, 36 
success and artistic development at 

Bath, 37-8, 42, 49, 50 
frightens herself over Macbeth, 39 
methods, and industry, 41, 56-7, 182 
originality, 41 

gift for artistic identification of herself 
with assumed characters, 41-2, 71, 

93, H7 
earlier period of pathetic tragedy, 42, 

78, 229-30 

"The Siddons 'Oh !'" 42, 175 
first drawn by Lawrence, 45 
warm friendship for Dr. and Mrs. 

Whalley, 47 

deficient in sense of humour, 47, 78, 80 
engaged by Sheridan for Drury Lane, 50 
triumphant second debut in London as 

Isabella in Isabella, or The Fatal 

Marriage, 52-6 
generally best in wifely and motherly 

parts, 55, 118 
strong memory, 57 
looks, 57-9, 214, 230, 269 
as Margaret of Anjou in The Earl of 

Warwick, 58, 165-6 
portraits, 59-62, 118, 128, 252-4 
queenliness, 62-3 
power of agitating audiences, 65-6 
Royal favours, 67, 249-50, 276 
social homage, 68, 212, 224, 262 
excellent appetite, 69, 243-4 
early salary at Drury Lane, 68 
at head of profession, 68-9 
criticises John Kemble, 70 135 



2 9 6 



THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 



Kemble, Sarah, afterwards Siddons 
continued 
artistic sincerity and truthfulness, 70, 

73> 74, 76 

vitality of her acting, 72, 73, 117 
power of vitalizing lifeless lines, 75 
generally classic, idealistic style, 77, 169 
later period of majestic tragedy, 78-9, 

132, 229 

inferiority in comedy, 79-80 
as Belvidera in Venice Preserved, 82-3 
as Monimia in The Orphan, 83-4 
as Zara in The Mourning Bride, 84-5 
as Jane Shore, 85-6 
as Calista in The Fair Penitent, 86-7 
as Euphrasia in The Grecian Daughter, 

87-8 
as Mrs. Beverley in The Gamester, 

88-9 

as Mrs. Haller in The Stranger, 89, 158 
as Lady Randolph in Douglas, 91-2 
off the stage no actress, 93-4 
first plays in Dublin, 95-7 
Mrs. Crawford pitted against her, 91-2, 

97 

well received in Irish society, 98-9 
jealousies and clouds dating from 

Dublin second season, 100-9 
wanting in readiness to give away 

money, 107-8 

an able letter-writer, 108, 208, 248 
first appearance in Edinburgh and 

later visits, 109-11 
stars indefatigably, m-2 
professional trustworthiness, 112 
as Isabella in Measure for Measure, 

II4-S 
during earlier maturity, continuous 

artistic improvement, 115 
as Constance in King John, 116-8 
power of self-excitation, 116 
as Lady Macbeth, 118-23, 1 68, 266 
as Desdemona, 123-4 
as Rosalind, 124-5 
as Portia again, 125-6 
as Ophelia, 126 

power of startling fellow-actors, 126 
as Imogen, Cordelia, Cleopatra, 127 
as Queen Katharine, 127-9 
as Volumnia, 129-30 
as Juliet, 131 
as her last new character, Hermione, 

131-2 
preference for acting with Kemble, , 

134-5 
leaves Drury Lane for Covent Garden, 

140 
stage mannerisms in private life, 142, 

245, 247, 282 



Kemble, Sarah, afterwards Siddons 

continued 

deficient in high spirits, 154 
as Elvira in Pizarro, 159-60 
refuses to act unless Sheridan pays 

arrears, 160 
occasional colloquial realism in tragedy, 

165-6 
as Jane de Montfort in De Montfort y 

166-7 

no serious rivals, 168 
magnificent greenroom manner, 175-6 
counsels to young Macready, 182 
home life, 183 
husband dies, 186-7 
motherliness, 187-8 
deep interest in Lawrence, 192, 194, 

201, 203 
character to some extent influenced by 

profession, 95, 228-9 
confesses acting a relief from sorrow, 

197, 229, 274-5 
power of inspiring profound affection 

in daughter, 199 

fortitude at younger daughter's death- 
bed, 200, 230 
while absent in Ireland, loses elder 

daughter, 205 

religious disposition, 215, 285-6 
objects to being lionised, 220, 224, 258 
prestige outlasts stage period, 221, 

273-4, 281-2 

gives evening parties, 223-240, 277-8 
calumniated by Mrs. Galindo, 224-7 
glamour of name, 230 
courage in emergencies, 230-1 
increasing stoutness, 231, 264-5 
retires during O.P. riots, 233 
salary at Covent Garden, 234 
earnings, 234-6 
London homes, 237-41, 276-7 
practises modelling, 241 
illnesses, 242-3 
strong ejaculations, 245 
seriousness and literalness, 247-8, 268 
tribute in Burke's Reflections, 252 
sensibility to music, 260 
farewell performances, 265-7 
public readings, 269-71 
decay of power, 273 
foreign trips, 280-1 
friendly ways with children, 284 
last illness and death, 286-7 
Kennard, Mrs. A., 14 
King, Thomas, 20, 23, 52, 53, 104, 105, 

138, 139, 177 

Knapp, Mr. Oswald G., 58 
Knight, Joseph, 4 
Kotzebue his Stranger, 89, 156-8, 207 



INDEX 



297 



Lacy, Willoughby, 29 

Lamb, Charles, 66, 136, 142, 160, 174, 
212, 259 

Landor, W. S., 138 

Lansdowne, Lord, 70 

Lewes, Charles Lee, 97, 106 

Lewis, Matthew, his Castle Spectre, 91, 
165 

Lewis, William, 140, 178 

Lawrence, Sir Thomas, 8, 45, 54, 58, 
59, 60, 61, 130, 134, 150, 158, 172, 
185, 189-203, 212, 226, 228, 232, 
233, 247, 249, 253, 263, 278 

Lillo, his Fatal Curiosity ', 66 ; George 
Barmvell, 72 

Linley, 29 

Liverpool, 18, 31,35, 112, 175, 235 

Macaulay, quoted 44, 252 

Macklin, 55, 178 

Macready, 57, 62, 80, 89, 132, 137, 149, 

170, 174, 181-2, 233, 273 
Mair, Mrs., 138, 141, 202, 208, 209, 

214, 216, 222, 240, 261, 278, 284; 

Major, note 59 
Malone, 6, 218 

Manchester, 31, 33, 35. "2, 242 
Mangin, Rev. E., 59, 122 
Martin, Sir Theodore, 149 
Mason, Rev. William, 255 ; his Elfrida, 

1 66 

Mathews, Charles, 178 
Matthews, Prof. Brander, 153, 164 
Mellon, Harriot, 175-6 
Milton, 9, 15, 269, 271-2 
Monckton, Hon. Mary, afterwards Lady 

Cork, 142, 219, 246, 257-8, 261 
Moody, John, 18, 19 
Moore, Charles, 195, 202, 203, 222 
Moore, Thomas, 244, 259-60, 274 
More, Hannah, 167, 215 
Morgan, Lady, 142-3, 255 
Murphy, Arthur, 82, 87, 164 ; his Grecian 

Daughter, 10, 45, 55, 57, 66, 69, 

82, 87-8 
Murray, Harriet, afterwards Siddons, 

178, 203-4, 208, 209 

Northcote, quoted 253 

O'Neill, Miss, 166, 170-1, 259, 273 
Opie, William, 214; Mrs., 188, 213-4, 

218, 248, 262 

Otway, Thomas, 82-3 ; his Venice Pre- 
served, 19, 68, 69, 75, 82-3, 132, 
135, 1 86 ; his Orphan, 83-4 

Pacchierotti, 162 
Packer, 56 



Palmer, John, 34, 35-6, 37, 38, 5. 57, 

171 

Papendiek, Mrs., 188 
Pepys, Sir W. W., 272, 285 
Pitt, William, 35, 164, 251 
Powell, William. 13 
Pratt, Samuel Jackson, 48-9, 67 
Price, Rev. Thomas, I, 14, 222-3 
Pritchard, Mrs., 76, I2O, 121, 126, 143, 

1 68 

Quin, 8, 1 68, 180 

Rachel, 57, 7 1, 79, 179 
Reynolds, Frederick, 75, 165 
Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 47, 56-7, 59, 63, 

100, 118, 151, 174, 252-4, 261 
Robinson, Henry Crabb, 66, 72, 126, 

230, 264, 269, 280 
Robinson, ' Perdita,' 176 
Romney, George, 60, 61, 253 
Rosebery, Lord, quoted 40 
Rowe, Nathaniel, 82 ; his fane Shore, 

2 3, 69, 85-6; his Fair Penitent, 

69, 73, 74, 86-7, 173 5 his Tamer- 

lane, 74, 82 
Russell, Samuel, 58 
Russell, Dr. W., quoted 52 

Satchell, Elizabeth, afterwards Kemble, 

133, 147-8 

Scott, Sir Walter, 70, 81, 83, no, in, 

134, 136, 137, 143-4, 165, 167, 
185, 208, 243, 248, 250, 252, 259, 
261-2, 264, 273 

Seguin, Peter, 96-7 

Seward, Ann*. 47, 49, 70, 82, 87, 126, 
215-6, 244, 291 

Shakespeare, 25, 54, 74, 76, 86, 114- 
32, 137, 139, 145, 248 

Sharp, 'Conversation,' 15, 258, 284 

Shaw, Rev. Stebbing, quoted n 

Sheridan, Richard Brinsley, 29, 49, 50, 
2, 78, 121, 137, 139, 140-2, 156- 
225, 252 ; his ' Monody on 
Garrick,' 42 and note. 

Sheridan, Thomas, 37, 41, 52, 55, 151 

Sherry, Miss, 25 

Siddons, Cecilia, afterwards Combe, 
daughter of Mrs. Siddons, note 145, 
181, 185, 188, 203, 206, 239, 271, 
275, 279, 280, 281, 287, 290 

Siddons, George, son of Mrs. Siddons, 
58, 152-3, 187-8, 203, 204, 206, 
209, 250, 273, 278-9, 288, 290 

Siddons, Henry, son of Mrs. Siddons, 
21, 22, 42, 50, 53, 108, in, 148, 
179, 187-8, 193, 204, 206-8, 209, 
242, 285, 290 



52, 
64, 



298 



THE INCOMPARABLE SIDDONS 



Siddons, Maria, daughter of Mrs. Siddons, 
38, 50, 187-201, 242, 243, 290-1 

Siddons, Sally, daughter of Mrs. Siddons, 
23, 42, 50, 112, 158, 161, 185, 187- 
205, 236, 243, 278, 290-1 

Siddons, William, husband of Mrs. 
Siddons, n, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 
19, 20, 21, 22, 29, 30, 32, 37, 42-3, 
49, 56, 95. ioo, 103, 160, 177, 
183-7, 195, 203, 204-5, 214, 236-7, 
239-40, 242, 290 

Smart, Sir George, 272, 282-3 

Smith, 'Gentleman,' 13, 25, 134 

Smith, James, 161 

Smith, Sarah, afterwards Bartley, 169- 
70 

Smith, Rev. Sydney, 218-9, 2 45> 2 5^ 

Southerne, Thomas, 82 ; his Isabella, 52, 
54-5, 69, 76, 96, 115, 132, 259 

Stael, Mme de, 143, quoted 71, 85 

Steevens, 'Shakespeare,' 107, 151, 218 

Stothard, 61, 62, 247, 289 

Stratford-upon-Avon, 6, 25 

Talma, 143, 145, 170 

Taylor, John, 28, 137, 147, 177 

Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, 132, 137, 149 ; 

quoted 139, 181 

Terry, Miss Ellen, 88 ; quoted 80 
Thackeray, 99, 157, 176; quoted 8 
Thomson, James, his Edward and 

Eleanora^ 42 
Thrale, Mrs, afterwards Piozzi, 37, 57, 

162, 172, 196, 21 1-2, 237,242, 243, 

247, 270, 271, 273, 279 
Tickell, Mrs., 165-6, 175 
Tieck, 145 

Trench, Mrs., 75, 170-1, 180, 263 
Twiss, Francis, 98, 151-2 



Twiss, Horace, nephew of Mrs. Siddons, 
152-3, 217, 227, 240-1, 248, 260, 
265, 267, 269, 278 

'Tytler, Sarah,' quoted 32 

Walpole, Horace, 27, 59, 67, 79, note 82, 

94, no, 125, 172, 250, 255, 256, 257 
Ward, John, grandfather of Mrs. Siddons, 

6, 7 
Ward, Sarah, afterwards Kemble, mother 

of Mrs. Siddons, I, 2, 5, 7, 8, 13, 14 
Wellington, Duke of, 80 
Wells, ' Becky,' 1 8, 171 
Welsh, Thomas, 53 
Weston, Miss, afterwards Pennington, 50, 

151, 195, 197-201, 243, 285 
Whalley, Rev. Dr., 36, 46-8, 49, 50, 

56, 67, 187, 206, 220, 291 ; his Castle 

of Montval, 90-1 
Whitelock, Charles Edward, 153 
Wilkinson, Patty, 17, 203, 204,205, 227, 

238, 239, 248, 257, 276, 279, 287, 291 
Wilkinson, Tate, 32, 33, 173, 250 ; quoted 

62, 112 

Wilson, John, quoted 59, 123, note 129, 

164, 267, 281 
Windham, William, 118, 124, 184, 224, 

248, 252 

Woffington, Peg, 7, 130 
Worcester, 7, 8, 9, 10, n, 20 
Wynn, Miss Williams, 15, 65, 77, 86, 

120, 273 

Yates, Mrs., 25, 27, 28, 41, 253 

York, 32, 33, 34, 35, 112, 173 

Young, Charles Mayne, 145, 179, 181, 

243 ; quoted 71, 73, 134, 130-1 
Younge, Miss, 25, 27, 28, 41 
Younger, Joseph, 1 8, 31, 32, 33, 172 




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